Friday, February 11, 2011

Culinary Conundrums

This months pictures are a little late, for which I apologize, but I haven't been feeling particularly bloggy lately. Still don't, frankly, so this post may be lacking in the entertainment department, but I'll give it a go.

So here they are:

She's not that tiny in comparison, we just got perspective wrong is all

There is good news, both my mother and I have lost weight. Not a huge amount but enough to give us both a little burst of encouragement.

That's not the interesting bit though. The interesting thing is how we did it. Neither of us have really increased the amount of exercise we're doing. Despite my newly discovered love of ankle weights and aerobics, I was quick to realize I still love video games and sleep more, and with the luxury of no university or work I've had plenty of time for them. My Mum also makes the completely legitimate argument that its far too cold here to get to the swimming pool. (Its indoors of course, but really getting all bundled up only to get unbundled completely, and then bundled again, its just such a hassle)

So, the sole reason we've lost weight is our eating habits. The smaller plates are a huge help. It completely tricks the mind so there is no need to force yourself to eat smaller portions. Of course smaller portions would not really do anything if the food itself was still unhealthy. As the main chef in the household (or cook depending on how uppity you're feeling), most of the meal planning falls to me. This is by design, I love to cook. I love spices and handling meat and combining different seemingly random things to make wonderful tasty dishes.

Lucky for me I have no dietary restrictions nor very many things on my "This is the grossest thing ever I will not eat it" list (baked beans are at the top, there's a story there but believe me, you don't want to hear it). This however is not true for the rest of the household. My brother is both lactose intolerant and allergic to gluten. For the lactose he can take a pill if he knows beforehand, but for the gluten allergy there's nothing he can do, and the tiniest trace of it can set his stomach off, which is bad for everyone in the house (don't ask). He's also somewhat of a picky eater, or rather has a particular palette, but after discovering that even if he thinks something is really gross he'll keep eating it if he's hungry enough, I've started to ignore that factor.

My Mum has also just found out she has high cholesterol so the need to keep the nasty kind of fats out of my food has become a major factor (though that seems to have mostly been taken care of by eliminating cheese, seriously that woman and her cheese). Also, she hates mushrooms, which is slightly annoying as me and my brother love them, but she did  do the whole raising me and loving me unconditionally "thing" so I try to give her a break on the mushrooms.

So the list of things that I can make for dinner has gotten much shorter since I moved back here, but I'm a girl who loves a challenge, and since I've yet to find gainful employment my days are free to do the research and the cooking. So here's a few things I've been doing that I think make all the difference.

Spices - This is the most important thing in my book. So often healthy food can seem boring and bland, but there's no need. Everything and anything can be given just a little twist with the right spices and something that seemed like a total yawn-fest, culinarily speaking, can be given all the pizazz necessary to satisfy. Variety is the spice of life, so a variety of spices can't be beat! A tip for buying spices is head to the Bulk Barn (or your local bulk food store for my non-canadian readers), this way you can buy a small amount at first to see if you like the flavours and can avoid over spending on something you're not actually going to use.

For example try this:

With mine being a no gluten household, pasta is out, so rice is our most common side dish, and it can get boring pretty fast. The above recipe was a huge success, and I'll be using it on a regular basis no doubt. Also, try boiling your rice in chicken or vegetable stock with some added spice like basil or thyme, it ups the nummy factor a great deal.

Let's Get Fishical - I cannot say enough good things about fish. Its quick and easy, delicious and healthy.  Rainbow Trout is my top pick and luckily its abundant here in Northern Ontario. Top it with the right spices (or just leave it alone and garnish with lemon juice afterwards), throw it in the oven for 20 minutes and your good to go. The battered stuff is great, but luckily (for those trying to lose weight) very difficult to do at home, so the healthy version is the way to go.

For example: try a healthy version of fish and chips with this recipe

Cooking with Fruits - this is one of my favourite things to do with recipes, though my dearest brother doesn't seem to like it that much (but like I said I'm learning not to care). A touch of sweetness with a savoury meal can be the difference between good and great, in my opinion, and when combined with the right spices can turn a boring meal into heaven. This works with salads as well as those leafy greens can get pretty boring pretty fast. But throw in some blueberries, blackberries and strawberries, top it with a nice raspberry vinagrette and serve with a good bit of fish *mwah* you've got a meal fit for a king (or queen).

For example this was my best recipe from the last month (at least I thought so, my bro might not agree), it'd be great for having friends over.

Get Your Booze On! - Alcohol, I don't drink the stuff but damn if it isn't amazing for cooking. There's sherry and brandy, red wine and my fave white wine, and some recipes even call for vodka. The alcohol cooks away so you don't have to worry about getting inadvertently drunk (though how fun would that be right!) and all the delicious flavours remain to make a meal just that much better. There's no need to get the mucho expensive stuff either as the flavours will still be there (though if you've got the cash splurge as the left over can always be served with dinner and compliment it nicely).

For example: pork chops+white wine is great combo and while I haven't tried this particular recipe its on my list for next week.

No Pain, No Gain (or loss in this case) - Don't be afraid to fail when cooking, the best way to find delicious foods is to experiment. Explore your grocery store, try picking up things you've never tried before. It might even be stuff you've never heard of, but thanks to the wonders of the internet someone somewhere will know how to cook it and you can give it a go. I'm a recent convert to eggplant for example, something I'd never really tried before, but its now going to be a regular on the weekly grocery list. Try variations on your favourite recipes, add a different spice or switch up your meat ingredients, making it a chicken dish instead of a beef one.  Anything that'll keep you interested and away from the unhealthy alternatives is a good thing. And once you get enough recipes under your belt you'll get a feel for what goes together and be able to make stuff up on the fly. If you make something disgusting every once in a while, c'est la vie. You toss it (or leave if it for the rest of the family to eat), have a tuna sandwich that night and move on.

Alright, having just spent the last hour or so talking about food, not surprisingly I'm hungry, so I'm gonna go snack on some carrots and hummus.

So, until next time Bon Appetit!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Believe It or Not

I've discovered something interesting already!

Turns out, I like exercise. No, really.

I enjoy the feeling of it, the idea of it, the results of it.  I even like the little painful reminders the next day that my poor old muscles have been in disuse for far too long.

What I've been missing all these years is a bit of solitude. Now, those who know me will be thinking to themselves that if there is anything I don't lack its solitude. I am a person who fits squarely into the "loner" category. I have my social moments but overall, I spend a good deal of my time blissfully alone.

The problem is that up until now exercise has for me been inextricably linked with other people. As kids exercise is a collective thing, we join little league teams, have gym with our classmates and play outside with our friends. For me these things were fun for a while, but then just as it is now I have a limited supply of sociability. I enjoy being with friends, but eventually I need to refuel with a little alone time. Give me some space a bit of quiet and a good book and I'll be raring to go again soon enough, but without that time I get irritable and surly and anything associated with forcing me to be sociable before I'm ready becomes something negative.

Now, my parents couldn't very well let me go off for a run by myself, or drop me off at a gym and come back for me in an hour. So, as I got older I began to associate exercise with being with other people, and more sedentary things like reading, writing, watching TV with being alone. Exercise was for when I felt sociable, sedentary things were what I did for myself, for solely my own enjoyment.

And while attitudes have started to change slightly, our society sees being alone a lot, or "anti-social behaviour" as something negative, so even when I was old enough to go off and do things on my own, according to most people the best way to get fit was to join a class, or a running club or find someone to go to the gym with.

But exercise is something I want to do for myself, and it turns out, by myself. I put my earphones on, turn up my best playlist of trance music and tune the rest of world out. The only thing left is me and my body. I listen to my breathing, feel my heart rate increase, feel the sheen of sweat on my forehead and the heat rise to my cheeks, turning my face a cheerful shade of red. It's wonderful. The only thing I don't like is stopping. I want to do more, I want to keep going, but thanks to a nasty experience with DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness and a story for another day), I know I can't. I am, however, looking forward to training my body up to a point where I can do whatever I want for as long as I want.

I have no doubt there will be times when I am feeling sociable and will want to spend time with friends getting a healthy dose of exercise, but whilst before exercise was something I could only do when I was in the mood, now I've discovered it's something I can do anytime I want.

Who knows, maybe as I get fitter and learn to love exercise even more I'll want to spend all my time hanging out with friends doing something active, but for now its good to know my alone time can be active too.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Beginning of the End

People like numbers. They're solid and dependable, or so we think. Those really in the know are aware that numbers can be invisible and non-existent and can do all sorts of strange things, but to us everyday people they are very comforting. We have statistics for everything nowadays and we love to spread those numbers around. We use numbers to make our case, prove our points, and when we want to know the true state of a situation we say "give us the numbers." To us, numbers are truths.
So here are my numbers:
I'm 24, 5"11, and 230 pounds
The truth is I'm fat.
This is a fact I'm perfectly okay with, its not something I'm denying or upset about. My weight has never been an issue for me, except perhaps when clothes shopping, but I usually get mad at retail stores for ignoring a huge portion of the consumer population which is just stupid and bad business, but I digress. I have somehow managed to avoid the self-esteem issues so often associated with being fat, especially among young women. I have a wonderful supportive family, which probably helped a great deal, but I've always had a very clear sense of just how arbitrary our ideas of what is good and bad really are.
When I was around 7 I had really long hair, all the way down to my butt. My Mum loved it, but I really couldn't be bothered, particularly when it came to brushing it. My poor put upon mother would have to listen to me squeal and squirm as she tried to comb out the rat's nest that had developed due to my neglect. Over and over again she would try to make me see reason, that if I just brushed it regularly it wouldn't get as tangled and wouldn't hurt as much. I responded with this little gem: If no one else brushed their hair I wouldn't have to would I?
I knew brushing my hair didn't stop me from doing anything I needed or liked to do, that it was only really a style issue, and that if everyone suddenly decided messy hair was "in" I would be relieved of my hair brushing duties.  Not surprisingly, my Mum let me cut my hair
This is the kind of thinking that I believe saved me from low self-esteem later in life, and still does. I know that in many cultures, including our own not so long ago,  being fat was a status symbol,  it meant you were wealthy and well fed. The great beauties featured in the masterpieces we hang in art galleries are not the stick thin models of today, but big luscious ladies with plenty of meat on their bones. Being fat is not bad or ugly, its just a state of being which is not currently in favor, and so in my mind has no real affect on what I think about myself.
Now, I am very grateful for not having the typical hang-ups about weight that most do, but it has made getting motivated to lose weight rather difficult. I’m not naive, and I realize that being as heavy as I am is unhealthy, technically I am apart of the obesity statistics now so often in the news. Being overweight is not like having messy hair, it does keep me from doing things I would like to do, and its made me miss a few buses in my time. The typical motivating factors that get most people off to the gym, however, just haven’t worked for me. I don’t care about looks, or fitting into the cute clothes. I know I would probably feel better if I was healthier, but the definition of “better” is so vague, and is one of those things I suspect you have to feel in order to understand, and as I have no recollection of ever being skinnier or healthier than I am right now, its really not that inspiring. 
So, you may be wondering how exactly I can declare this my last year as a fat girl if all the traditional roads to a heathier lifestyle have failed me.
You see, I like learning things. How the universe fits together, how nature does what it does, and all sorts of sciencey stuff, about how human beings work, both physically and socially. I am interested in almost everything, and last week a thought struck me
 “Wouldn’t it be interesting if I were skinny?”
At first I wondered about the little things, like how it feels to wear a skirt without shorts on underneath to prevent chaffing, or how it would feel to sit down without having to pull your shirt out from in between your stomach rolls. But the more I thought about it the more interesting the idea became. Not just the physical stuff, like crossing your legs or sitting comfortably in a Greyhound bus seat (though I suspect that is impossible regardless of your size), but also the psychological stuff like how will people treat me that knew me as big once I start losing weight, how will that differ from people who may never have known me as a fat girl. Will I like my new social status or will it just piss me off? Will I start to see myself differently?  Will my interests change as I become able to do more active things? Did I get fat because I didn’t really like doing active stuff, or did I not like active things because I was unhealthy and unable to do them well?
It’s been almost three weeks since I started thinking about this and I have hundreds of questions. All of which can be answered if I just eat healthier and start exercising.  If I lose weight I will learn new things about an area of life I previously had no idea about. That, for me, is the best motivation.
Today I did my first half hour work out, something I intend to do every day, and twice a week I will try to do a longer one hour work out. My Mum is joining me in this endeavour as I am moving back home now that I’m done university and we have bought smaller plates in order to help us control our portion sizes. I don’t have anything else set out in stone, as routines tend to bore me, which is the exact opposite of what I want. 
As I am a sciencey sort of person I am going to document this process. I’m going to write about different questions that come up, and any interesting developments as I continue my weight loss, including any hiccups or road blocks that I may encounter. I’m also taking a picture near the beginning of every month so that at the end of this year I can look back and see how I’ve changed. (Okay, I admit, I fully intend to do one of those cool time lapse videos set to vaguely emotional piano music, I love those things!)
So here is the first month's picture taken on January 8th 2010, the first day of my last year as a fat girl.