Wednesday, August 22, 2012

not'cho average nacho: Greek Nachos

Greek food took me by surprise when I was about 22 years old. I had never had anything remotely Mediterranean in my life (pizza and spaghetti not included), when, one day, I stumbled upon Crazy Pita near my mom and dad's house in Henderson, NV. It was there that I first sampled warm-spiced roasted vegetable couscous, sharp Feta salad, flavorful Kefta skewers and, yes, even Hummus, served with a drizzle of olive oil on top with a sprinkle of paprika and warm pita bread on the side. 
This, I thought to myself, is heaven. 

Now Greek food is a weekly staple in my home, including homemade whole wheat pita bread, which I make in a double-batch, cook and freeze for quick lunches of pita sandwiches, pizzas, chips and more! But that's another post. 
 Today I want to share my recipe for Greek Nachos. These are a no-bake nacho using pita chips (homemade, store bought, or - my new-found Trader Joe's* favorite, Whole Wheat Lavash Chips, pictured) piled high with fiber-rich, protein-packed hummus, chopped veggies, a sprinkle of Feta and a drizzle of Greek dressing, also a TJ's* staple in my house. If you have any leftover chicken laying around, it goes great on top of this dish as well! I love to buy a rotisserie chicken from my grocery store at the beginning of the week, carve it up, and use it throughout the week to add protein to salads and nachos. They are super inexpensive, juicy and incredibly flavorful, and a huge time-saver to boot!

By the way, if you're wondering why on earth I am name-dropping all of my Trader Joe's-exclusive groceries, it's because, well, TJ's is my favorite store on the face of the planet. And the blog name doesn't call me a snob for nothing. I stop at a TJ's every single time I get the opportunity to stock up on our family's favorites, and at the top of that favorite's list is their Greek dressing. You can substitute homemade tzatziki sauce (when in doubt, go with Alton Brown. He's my culinary boyfriend), Ranch, other store-bough Greek, or even just a splash of oil and vinegar. 
Or come to my house and I'll give you a bottle. I have about 400 of them lining my pantry shelves.
Greek Nachos, baby!
This recipe is so simple- it makes a great lunch, or, with chicken (or whole chickpeas or white beans for extra protein) even a great, fast weeknight dinner! I have made this recipe a ton of different ways depending on what is in my fridge at the moment, too. I have topped it with roasted zucchini, squash and carrots, and then some crunchy romaine, I have made a cucumber/Feta/tomato/olive tapenade to sprinkle across the top -- any veggies you have will taste delicious with this. Also, I don't know about your kids, but mine love crunchy, fresh veggies, and they love nachos. They gobble this up! 

Whether you are a Mediterranean novice or an old pro, there is nothing better than a big pile of nachos with the flavors that I can't get enough of!

Greek Nachos
Serves: 4
Prep time: 10-20 minutes
  • ·        1 bag pita chips, lavash chips, or 2 cups homemade pita chips
  • ·        1 1/5 cups Hummus, see below
  • ·        3 cups raw veggies, including cucumbers, olives, tomatoes, lettuce, jicama, carrots – the possibilities are endless!
  • ·        ¼ cup Feta Cheese
  • ·        ¼ cup Greek Dressing, preferably Trader Joe’s, or tzatziki sauce
On serving platter, arrange chips in a single layer. One by one, smear ½ tbs of hummus on each chip. Sprinkle cheese and veggies across the top. Top with lettuce lastly, if using, and drizzle lightly with dressing. Serve.

World’s Best Hummus 
 (adapted from Ina Garten)
Yield: 2 cups
Prep time: 10 minutes

  •     4-5 garlic cloves
  •     1 can chickpeas, drained, liquid reserved
  •     1 to 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt (I cut the salt down to 1 tsp when making this recipe for                     nachos, as the chips are salted)
  •     1/3 cup tahini (sesame paste, found in the peanut butter or specialty aisle of the                      supermarket)
  •     6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 2 lemons)
  •     2 tablespoons liquid from the chickpeas
  •     6-10 dashes hot sauce, depending on taste
Process garlic in food processor fitted with the steel blade until it's minced. Add the rest of the ingredients to the food processor and process until the hummus is coarsely pureed. Taste, for seasoning, and serve chilled or at room temperature.

ah, memories

Hey, do you remember that one time when you were so excited about changes that you were making in your life that you decided to share them with the world, but then life got so stressful and intimidating and emotionally draining that for all three days of your vacation to Portland you fell off of the deep end and decided that your new lifestyle and motto and everything were complete garbage? And then you realized that the Big Ugly Monster that is emotional eating had reclaimed you and you needed to find a way to break the cycle and get back on track or you just might be lost in a haze of Trader Joe's Chocolate Covered Potato Chips and Diet Coke for all eternity?
My delicious nemesis.

Man, I hate it when that happens. 

Messing up on my goals and perspective this week is forcing me to, once again, come face to face with one of my biggest struggles. I am a perfectionist. If I can't be great at something, I really try not to bother - it gets to me too much! This destructive mindset makes it terrifying for me to set goals- what if I just don't achieve them? My inner-critic wreaks havoc inside my head at the smallest misstep- from something silly that I have said to a huge lapse in judgement. This means that when I fall off of the wagon, I usually lay down in the dirt and hate myself and cry and eat a lot of chocolate- never actually considering that I should just stand up, dust myself off, and climb back on again. 

Knowing my struggle with perfectionism, a trusted friend once asked (read: forced) me to buy and read The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to be and Embrace Who You Are* by Brené Brown.
*Is it just me, or is it Federal Law that self-help books have an incredibly long and cheesy-sounding title?
Brené is an excellent writer and an absolute authority when it comes to shame (a fascinating cultural taboo from the way she writes it - her work is just so enlightening!) and perfectionism. I found her book incredibly  helpful. While reading I continually experienced those moments when you think, "Oh my goodness, she has seen inside my soul and is speaking just to me!" But she hasn't and she wasn't - since sharing what I have learned from her research with others, I have found that I am definitely not alone in grappling with my perfectionist pursuits. Her book changed the way I looked at myself and my current hang-ups, as well as events from my past. The biggest thing I have been trying to implement from her book is the concept of giving myself a break! It seems to be the part of life and failure that I struggle with the most - cutting myself some slack when I have dropped the ball, and not throwing in the towel just because 
 I am not perfect. 

So, I have failed myself today. Now what?
...I'm not really sure. This part is still really hard for and discouraging to me. I guess I am going to go re-read my favorite chapters of TGOI:LGOWYTYSTBAEWYA (okay, I thought our previous acronyms were bad, but this one is going to make me give up the institution for good) as I try not to think about the incredible amount of garbage I have eaten and how I've sabotaged myself once again and how I'll never ever ever reach my goal if I can't stop eating junk. 

Do you have a hard time bouncing back after a setback? How do you deal?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

1, 2 step

It's incredible to me, the effortless NBD aura that all doctors seem to give off. Like all of those doctors on medical drama shows who keep cool as cucumbers as the seventh knife wound victim is wheeled into the E.R. in one shift. As I met with my doctor at my initial appointment, he told me the probable cause for my symptoms along with my two plausible choices. As he did this, he definitely gave me the message:

"Yeah, uh huh. No babies. So, what'll it be? Pills or pounds?" 

He suggested a few diets he had "heard of" that seemed to get good results for other patients, and then he brought the lights down low and decided to make it personal. ...okay, the lights stayed on in all of their full-blast fluorescent glory. I just imagined it that way. Like the part of an 'NSYNC concert - yeah, I've been to a lot of them - where the lights would get low and J.C. would use his bedroom voice to tell all of the lovely ladies out there that he loved them and each and every one of the aforementioned ladies' tummies would get butterflies and then the rest of the group would come out onstage thrusting their hips and singing in five-part harmony about forever love and unicorns and such. 

Only my doc wasn't trying to get me to throw my underwear at him. 

He was just trying to be less of a tool, I think. 

Anyway, he told me a "deeply personal" story about when his wife finally decided to get control of her weight. She decided to go off of all dairy, and the pounds magically melted away. He acted like this was the hardest diet he had ever heard of, and I'm pretty sure he implied more than once that I wasn't woman enough to do it.

The only problem was that I am not now, nor have I ever been, a big dairy girl. If my doc and his wife grew up around here maybe they were brought up on full fat milk from the dairy down the road and cheese on their every baked potato and butter and all of that. But, until the studies came out in overwhelming numbers on the super-terribleness of margarine, that was all I ever had in my house. Milk was either painstakingly squeezed from a cactus flower or shipped to Las Vegas, my birthplace, from some far off land where things like cows could survive in the open. the way, I may have made up the cactus-milk thing. Sorry. 

  Giving up dairy was not my answer. 

I spent the intermediate week between dooms day doctor, blood tests and results looking up the diets my doctor had mentioned. The Flat Belly Diet by Prevention Magazine had some really interesting ideas in it, including information especially applicable to me about the nature of belly fat. Belly fat, it so happens, is a huge marker of diabetics. I have always gathered the bulk of my, well, bulk around my middle, but the flat belly diet suggests a number of reasons besides diabetes that contribute to belly weight, including chronic stress. I sent this picture to my sister-in-law, Mandy, after a particularly bad day and a long phone call spent bawling to her about my worries and woes. I knew that the last two years had been really, really - no, really - hard on me, but it was especially difficult to read through this list and realize I either had or was currently experiencing just about every symptom listed.

I made a list of my own, because, well, that's just what I do, and "Figure out a way to deal better with stress" wound up at the top of the page. 

The basic tenets of The Flat Belly Diet is that the dieter should eat four four-hundred calorie meals per day, each one containing at least one serving of MUFAs -- ANOTHER ACRONYM! Yes! I am on a roll. 

A MUFA is a Monounsaturated Fatty Acid. These are found in things like peanut butter, nuts and seeds, olives, olive oil, and even dark chocolate.

I loved the idea of eating more servings of MUFAs in my daily life - hey, it beats swallowing one giant, nasty fish oil pill every day, right? - and I figured I would start there as far as changes to my diet went. 

Okay, here is the part where I insert that I don't really believe that "diets" work. I have been on enough of them to know. As I wrote about last time, over the past five months I have come to realize that it is me - my attitude, my habits, my beliefs - that must change. I have started to believe that it's only realizing that I can wait, stop, nibble, sip or just say no, and there is nothing wrong with that every single day. There is a saying that makes more sense to me now that I have actually tried to apply this IWKYTMO mantra - We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. I honestly think that knowing this, and I mean really knowing it, is the only "diet" that has or will ever work. It means not expecting perfection, but instead being quick to forgive, forget and move on. It means acknowledging that I don't "deserve" anything but a healthy lifestyle and a clear conscience. 

In the addiction recovery world, I first learned about the concept of Hitting Rock Bottom. For an addict, HRB doesn't mean that you are cured and will be perfect, but it does mean that the pain of the consequences of your actions/addiction finally outweigh the pleasure of indulging in your addiction. Sitting on that crinkly paper bed-liner and trying not to cry while a guy who was charging me $40/second to listen to his patient-but-bored speech on dropping LBs felt an awful lot like falling through the air and landing on the unforgiving rocks below. Reading about MUFAs was the first step in picking myself up and limping forward.
 Incorporating more MUFAs into my diet has been easy. I am already the biggest peanut butter lover on the face of the earth. Spreading a tablespoon on an apple at night when I am feeling snacky feels like a luxury. Grabbing a square of rich dark chocolate and nibbling away at it feels like sinning. Throwing chopped walnuts into my salad feels like giving my heart a high-five. know. In a good way.
For the next few days I stocked my pantry with the MUFAs I wanted to incorporate into meals, and I started on the four-day jumpstart plan listed in The Flat Belly Diet. It was a great way to begin eating more mindfully, and prepping my tummy to down-grade the amount of food being shoved in there every day. I skipped the weird water thing it wanted you to drink every day, but, to be fair, it sounded intensely disgusting to me. If you are interested in The Flat Belly Diet, go to their website, check out the book at your local library, or buy it almost-anywhere for about $5. It's a pretty good, quick read, and it made for a great kick start to a new way of thinking - Read: Actually thinking before, during and after eating - for me. 
PS Hey Doc, Just FYI, I am woman enough to do this. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

diary of a chubby kid

My relationship with food has always been on a Rocky Road. With chocolate on top. 
I know, I know. I'm a cheese ball.
Elvis Face at Disneyland- Do you like my themed ensemble?
But seriously. I have always been a chub. It just so happens that it runs in my family. Or you might say that no one in my family runs. Either way, since as long as I can remember I have been on the stout side of the Little Teapot song. In elementary school my  parents even had to get involved when a few "popular girls" (BTW how is that even a thing in elementary school? Not cool.) were teasing me. I still remember shamefacedly receiving one of their apology letters, written with backward 's' and all.
 "Dear Mandy, 'S'orry I called you a whale. I think you're really nice. -Cindy"

You can insert a lisp when you read that if you want. Even though a "popular girl" would probably never lisp. Her elocution teacher would never allow it. I do it, though, just because it's more fun that way.
Being called "whale" hurts almost as much as looking at this picture does.
 I played 's'oftball with Cindy years later and we actually became friends.

We never mentioned the teasing. Or the letter. Or water-dwelling mammals of any kind.

My parents started looking sideways at me in my swimsuit at a swim meet one night soon after the lisping incident and told me that I needed to start watching what I ate.

But I WAS watching what I ate. I watched it all. I watched after school ice cream sundaes (made like a boss with melted peanut butter and Hershey's syrup on top) and chips and snack cakes sliding past my lips all of the time. It was the best tasting food, the food that our cupboards were stocked with. And I loved it all. The whole "You are what you eat" thing really wasn't registering with me.

Soon after that, mom started taking me to a nutritionist before school once a week. There I would have to talk about vegetables and portion sizes and keep a food journal that I was supposed to go over with my nutritionist at our meetings. I was probably ten. It was embarrassing, intimidating and confusing to me at that age. I thought I looked like everyone else in my family. Ate like them. Why was I there? I don't remember how long I went, but I don't think I learned much about being healthy or turning skinny and pretty - and I was much more interested in the latter. I had no idea what I was doing wrong because I had honestly never considered before that food could be bad.

Life went on. I was always involved in sports (I was the consummate tomboy. I told anyone who would listen that baseball teams should admit girls because softball was just too wimpy for me. My first love was Benny "The Jet" Rodriguez. I wanted to be buried under home plate at Dodger's Stadium... Well, I stick by that last one...). I was pretty happy and active. I was the sweet, funny chubby friend that every cool skinny girl needed in their entourage (They will never admit to it, but I am 95% sure that every friend I had in junior high and high school read that in a Teen Vogue somewhere, and treated it like scripture. And rightly so. I mean, it's Teen Vogue. Am I right?).

My gorgeous sister! ...and me, age 18.
I vividly remember the day, my senior year of high school, that my soccer coach called the team together to have a talk about nutrition. This was literally the only time I can remember connecting food to fuel. I was so interested and quite frankly astounded by his demand that we eat balanced meals. Did I need to buy a scale? What did this have to do with soccer? Whatever this meant, I was sure I wasn't doing it right. And I was the type that said "How high?" the moment Coach said "Jump". So I canned food runs to McDonald's and began eating what soon became known as "The Regular" in my local bagel shop- wheat bagel, turkey, mustard, veggies. The owner of the bagelry loved me. This was my idea of balance.

When I left for college I had no idea how to cook, feed myself, or stay healthy. I was eating garbage at all hours of the day and night, and, while I was not alone among my college besties in gaining the Freshman 15, I was probably the only one who was not eating out of character. The only real change was that I had stopped playing competitive sports 5x a week, and so the pounds packed on. During our sophomore year, my roommates and I made a concerted effort to eat smart and healthy, and it was with this amazing group of women that I learned the following: 1) That I love food. Not just to eat, but I love cooking it, I love shopping for it, I love watching other people prepare it, I loved feeding it to others and eating it with others. 2) That I could lose weight and still eat. and 3) That I wanted to have a different relationship with food than I had ever before considered. It was during this crucial year of my life that I decided that I would be a food-lover in the right way. Somehow.

Blowing it up, age 20.
I got married that year, and my love of cooking has grown exponentially each year since then. I am now known among my friends as a pretty great cook, and that's just how I like it. My life revolves around food, especially trying to find the healthiest and best-tasting way to feed my family.

But I am still a chubby girl. You've seen the pictures. And it has nothing to do with intervening years, babies, or lack of trying to stop being chubby. It has to do with my emotional connection to food and the way I am able to completely zone out when there is a plate of great food (or plain chocolate, peanut butter, bacon and/or any combination of the three) nearby. I wake up minutes or seconds later, licking my lips in satisfaction. Then I look down at my empty plate/bowl and wonder where it's all gone.

Chubby in France, the place where a food lover's dreams come true, 23.
 ...okay, I don't actually have food amnesia, but clearly I am lacking in hours spent practicing self control around food. Even as a grown woman, if I couldn't have all of the food I wanted or if I had emotions that were too difficult to deal with, I would resort to sneaking around with food, having rendezvous with Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and Ben&Jerry late at night in dark corners of my house. 

Coming to terms with this lack of self control has been a very slow and painful process. I am still working on overcoming the intense craving I have to devour all delicious food whenever it is present instead of savoring  it. About a month into practicing my new mantra, although far from perfectly, I read an article on FOMO in Women's Health magazine. FOMO is an adorable acronym for something that is pretty pathetic in all incarnations - the Fear Of Missing Out. As I read through the article, I started to see myself, my patterns from both childhood and adult life, in print on the pages of the magazine. I have always struggled with trying too hard to fit in and please other people and not miss anything important. And, as it turns out, I especially have a major FOMO when it comes to food. I am afraid of saying no to something delicious because good food makes me happy and I just don't want to miss out.
  And, yes. Even as I type that I can hear how ridiculous it sounds. 

From necessity my mantra in the past five months has become, "It won't kill you to miss out." This means telling myself at least one thousand times that I can have a Pronto Pup - the world's best corn dog - at the State Fair this Fall. That I don't need one today, even though they parked their truck of deliciousness just a few feet away from the face painting booth that I am helping my friend, Laura, with for the next 8 hours. It means saying no to cake on other people's birthdays and not feeling weird about it. It means taking a good, hard look at whether I really "deserve" some chocolate in the long afternoons that accompany being the mother of two small children. I am trying to put my relationship with food into a more accurate perspective. I have taken  my passion for it and my knowledge of it and tried to assign it the proper place in my life. And so far I feel like recognizing my skewed perspective has only helped to increase the love for food and health and nutrition that I started cultivating as a nineteen-year-old. Food still makes me happy, but that other, darker side of my relationship with food, the side filled with regret and frustration and fear, is diminishing each time I just say no to *fill in the blank with something yummy*. 

So far I'm sticking with "It won't kill you to miss out" - let's call it IWKYTMO - pretty successfully. 
And I'm taking IWKYTMO one day at a time. Which I fully realize makes me sound like a recovering alcoholic. But, you know what? As someone who has, on more than one occasion, eaten chocolate alone in a dark closet, I am okay with that.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

life, liberty and the pursuit of great food: My Story (the diagnosis)

I usually don't share anything too terribly personal on this blog, because, well, this is a food blog. And I am a person, not a meal.
**Side note: I have given this a lot of thought, and if I WAS a meal, I think I would be broiled asparagus (olive oil. salt and pepper. heat.), these potatoes, and a gourmet burger, à la The Snake Bite. With a freezing cold Coke in a glass bottle. Seriously. Think about it.

However, since this is a food blog and I am a food lover with a food-related problem, I thought I'd share this for anyone out there who, like me, may be struggling to help (...okay, force) their weight and their love of food co-exist. I feel like I can't do this properly without sharing just a bit of my story. Now, it has been said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. For me, writing this down feels like a step in the right direction. I honestly have a lot of trouble putting myself "out there" and sharing personal things, but I feel like sharing this is an important part of my journey. That being said, read on if you dare!

Me, at my heaviest. Feb 2012
Early this spring, while training for my fourth triathlon (my first Olympic-length race), I found myself putting on weight like crazy. I was at my personal heaviest (and gaining) while training 6x a week for hours at a time. Looking at the scale one morning I knew that something was wrong. I think I had known for a long time, but I was finally ready to face up to it. My husband and I had been trying to get pregnant with another baby for six months with no success, I was tired all of the time (a normal side effect from the amount of work I was putting in, or so I thought), and things with me just weren't right. I scheduled an appointment with my doctor. He ordered tests. Lots of them. And then he told me the news. 

I was diagnosed with Poly-cystic Ovarian Syndrome and moderate Insulin Resistance in March of this year. The two diseases, it seems, go hand in hand, being linked as hormone imbalances. One was leaving insulin (a hormone) floating around in my blood stream, unable to enter my cells. When that really started getting out of hand, the PCOS kicked it and began messing with my cycle and weight and other fun things like that. You have heard of insulin resistance because it is a precursor to diabetes. I'll say that again: DIA-FREAKING-BETES.

Sorry for the near-curse there, but, seriously. There are dirtier words than the one that "freaking" is a substitute for. Cancer. Stroke. Diabetes. Kardashian (not sure what this one is, but it really sounds contagious).

Needless to say, a lot of things in my life have changed since this March. The options were laid out to me like this: (A) I could go on medicine to kick-start my lady stuff so I could get knocked up and continue along with my life like nothing had happened. (B) I could change my diet, lose 10-15% of my body weight and try to get my hormone levels evened out. After all, both of these diseases are 100% reversible. What to do?

However unappealing option A was to me, option B has always scared the holy crap out of me. And I am really ready for another baby. Really. But (and this is THE BIG but [a seperate entity entirely from my big butt, just to clarify]) I am a health fanatic. There, I said it. And that means that it is more important to me to do things the right way, both for my own health and the health of my potential future spawn. How can I be overweight and a health fanatic at the same time? ...Listen, don't ask me silly questions, alright? I know it doesn't make sense. So I have jumped in with both feet to option B, and have tried not to look back. 

I am a very competitive person, but having an actual number goal for weight loss (and one with a whole lot more than a cute bathing suit riding on it) is so intimidating to me. If only I could compete in a reality show for chubby people. I would call it, "Moderate-sized Loser" or "Salad Bar Survivor" or "Pound Puppies" (in this one, contestants would have a large and semi-ferocious canine work-out buddy to bark at them while they are on the treadmill. I figure NBC could save a bundle on loud and scary trainers this way- dog biscuits have got to be less expensive than paying for all of that spandex). Alas, NBC refuses to green light "Pound Puppies" because of animal cruelty laws (the dogs would be forced to share their chain-link home in the pound with their fat human friends, and ASPCA says that it would really hurt the dogs' reputations around the shelter if they were seen with such disgusting roommates), so I am on my own. And, five months into this thing, it is still scary.

I am not at the goal that I have set for myself yet. I have, however, lost 24 pounds {nearly 15% of my body weight at the time of my dooms day doctor visit), completed that fourth triathlon (although just a Sprint distance instead of my originally planned Olympic), started and finished a 19-credit semester of school, and continued to raise my two beautiful daughters and pursue healthy and delicious meals for my family. My personal goal eclipses the doctor's weight loss goal for me by about 30 pounds. I am still working every day and am determined to succeed. I want to write more about the things I have been doing to lose the pounds so far (really simple things that feel really ground-breaking to me, and maybe they will to you, too!) and more about my history, so please check back for more posts on my PCOS/Insulin Resistance journey!
Me a few days ago, trying on clothes at H&M -24 lbs.
For now I will sign off with just a few thoughts that are weighing on me as I write: 1) Being 27 and having a "diagnosis" really, really blows. 2) Celery is God's way of letting you know that a diet is going to be okay. Like a rainbow. It is the Noah's Ark of diet food. Just pile two of anything you love onto it and ride out the storm. 3) Food Network and Pinterest are the devil when you love to cook but can't eat anything. 4) Why am I still tuning in?