Wednesday, September 29

It's My Favorite Season--Soup Season

I love soup. I love the aromas filling the house as a pot cooks on the stove. I love the warmth and comfort I feel as it meanders down my throat and settles in my tummy. And I mostly love soup on a cold day, like today. I love the juxtaposition of the cold outside versus the warmth inside my home.

What I do NOT love about soup, is making it. A good soup...takes....time. This is soup's greatest weakness and precisely why the canned soup business is a multi-billion dollar industry. But, let's face it, canned soup is never as good as homemade. I'm just sayin'.

Carrot Soup with Indian Spices,
Garnished with Sour Cream and Chives
For all you fellow soup-lovers, I'm passing along one of my favorite soup recipes, and the best thing about it is—you can make it, start to finish, in 45 minutes. That's like a nanosecond in soup-making terms!

The original recipe is from Cakebread Cellars. It's called, "Carrot Soup with Garam Masala and Fromage Blanc," which sounds fancier than how I describe it, "Carrot soup with Indian spices, garnished with sour cream."

I know it sounds a bit odd, but if you like Indian cuisine, this is absolutely fabulous. Plus it's low-fat, since its base is chicken stock, not cream.

If you think your kids won't like it, give it a try. My 12-year-old and 10-year-old love it. And it's good either hot or cold. Make up a batch for dinner, then take some for lunch tomorrow.

The original recipe is below, but be sure to read my notes that follow it for some helpful hints on preparation and substitutions.

Carrot Soup (Serves 8)

  • 2 yellow onions, halved & thinly sliced
  • 1 tart apple, Granny Smith, peeled, cored & thinly sliced
  • 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 lbs. carrots, peeled & thinly sliced*
  • 2 tsp. garam masala or curry powder**
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt***
  • fromage blanc, at room temperature****
  • chopped fresh chives
  • salt and pepper

  • Combine the onion, apple, and olive oil in a large saucepan. Heat over high heat and cook for 3 minutes, until softened. 
  • Add the carrots and garam masala. Cook for 1 minute.
  • Add the chicken stock and the 2 teaspoons of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and cook, uncovered on a low simmer for 20 minutes, or until the carrots are tender.
  • Transfer small batches of the soup to a blender. Put the lid on the blender and remove the vent cover on top. Cover the vent with a towel to release steam. Puree, in batches, until smooth. (Or, if you have an immersion blender, puree the soup directly in the saucepan.)
  • Return the pureed soup to a saucepan and heat over medium-high heat until warmed through.
  • Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Ladle into serving bowls. Add a dollop of fromage blanc and sprinkle with chives.

The Indian spice mix I use.

* If you want to save time, buy carrot chips instead of whole carrots. Or use a food processor to slice the carrots, onions and apple.
** I don't like the flavor of garam masala so I use a different spice mix. It's from Arora Creations and it's their blend for Chick Peas. Here's a picture of it. You can find it at Whole Foods in the international aisle.
*** Chicken stock already has a lot of sodium in it, so I skip the salt.
**** You can find fromage blanc at Whole Foods, but frankly, it's very similar to sour cream and in my mind, not worth the hefty price tag. I use light sour cream instead.


Monday, September 27

Is Anyone Else Tired Or Is It Just Me?

Me trying to nap on the plane.
This is how my husband passes
his time on the plane, photographing
me. Nice, huh?

I’ve been traveling for two weeks—first to Hawaii (I know, poor me, waa waa waa) and then to North Carolina to help my mom move into her new house and finally, to South Carolina for my cousin’s wedding. Between jet lag, moving boxes, and wedding festivities, I’m exhausted.

Pulling in to my driveway yesterday evening, I was disappointed that it was only 5:30 pm. Too early to go to bed, I reasoned. So I waited until 7:00 pm before stumbling upstairs and collapsing onto my mattress.

My current state of being reminded me of the following quote:

“Sometimes the most urgent and vital thing you can possibly do is take a complete rest.”  --Ashleigh Brilliant

I don’t know who Ashleigh is, but she is definitely brilliant.

In a world dominated by deadlines, headlines, and grocery lines, this quote reminds me that it’s okay to give in to tiredness, to allow myself to recover, even (gasp!) take a nap.

What is it about the American culture that shuns napping? Who decided napping was equivalent to laziness? My guess is—it was a man, because any mother of a screaming toddler knows the magic of naptime.

Well, naps are finally getting the accolades they deserve.

A six-year Greek study found that those who took a 30-minute nap at least three times a week had a 37% lower risk of heart-related death. How about that! 

Other studies show that taking a nap is a great way to increase alertness and reaction times, improve mood, and reduce accidents. And let’s face it, napping just feels good. There’s nothing like waking from a power nap feeling refreshed and ready to go.

I know what you’re thinking. “I’d love to nap Dianna but my boss isn’t exactly nap-friendly.” Yeah, that’s a problem, but all is not lost. Meditation has similar benefits and might be an easier sell to your employer. You could meditate during the workweek and save your naps for the weekend.

But before you hit the hay, there are a few rules to follow.

First, don’t sleep for more than 30 minutes. If you push it much longer you’ll enter a deeper stage of sleep which is harder to awaken from, and when you do wake up, you’ll feel groggy. Not exactly the effect you’re going for.

Second, don’t nap too late in the day. If it’s closer than three hours before bedtime, a nap will throw off your nighttime sleep. Experts say between 2 pm and 4 pm is the ideal time, when your body rhythms naturally dip.

Third, don’t nap at all if you suffer from insomnia. In this case, napping is actually counterproductive as it perpetuates bad sleep habits.

After my two weeks of travel I’ve got to catch up on mail, go to the grocery store, return a bunch of phone calls, clean out my email inbox, do laundry, and God knows I need to get to the gym, but first, I think I’ll take a nap.

Tuesday, September 21

It’s All in Your Head

A gym membership. A fridge stocked with fruits, veggies and lean meats. A pantry overflowing with whole grains. Drinking 64 ounces of water a day.

These are the keys to effective weight management, right?

They are certainly beneficial, but surprisingly, they’re not what you really need. The ultimate key to effective weight control isn’t something you can buy. But the good news is, you already own it. It’s rattling around between your ears.

Say hello to the mother of all weight loss weapons. Say hello to your brain.

Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing registered dietician Paula Schnurman from the Advanced Wellness Centre. With 25 years of experience in nutrition counseling Paula is an expert in helping people attain their health goals.

My first question to Paula was simple, “What separates a successful weight loss client from an unsuccessful one?”

“Successful individuals embrace the behavioral change side of weight loss,” she replied. “They are very self-aware. They understand their problem behaviors and use a variety of techniques to help them break down their internal barriers to change and create healthy new patterns.”

Simply stated, you’ve got to think. Think about your problem behaviors, think about when you’re most tempted to cheat, and think about ways to combat those destructive behaviors.

Paula said the most successful weight loss clients employ the following seven habits.

1) Self-monitoring: the observing and recording of behavioral patterns followed by feedback on the behaviors.

Tracking what you’re doing is the first step to understanding your patterns. Are you keeping a daily food and exercise journal? You should be. It’s the best way to monitor your behavior.

I use’s Daily Plate and when I go over my calorie count for the day, a big, angry red button pops up highlighting exactly how far over I went. Talk about feedback. I hate that red button. It reminds me that I was less than stellar that day and I need to get back on track.

2) Stimulus Control: identifying the major barriers that are associated with unhealthful eating habits.

For example, for me, drinking wine with friends can lead to overeating. And dancing. And karaoke. Given my vocal range, the karaoke is really the worst part of that scene.

3) Problem Solving: Developing coping strategies to deal with temptation.

For example, I don’t want to give up drinking wine with my friends, but I can limit the amount of wine I drink by alternating between a glass of wine and a glass of water. Or, I can have a healthy snack before I go out, which will make me less hungry and less likely to overindulge.

4) Contingency Management: A positive-reinforcement approach where rewards are given for adherence to desired behavior.

Let me state first that food is not a good reward system. Although it’s tempting to treat yourself with a slice of cheesecake or a vat of cookie dough for losing a few pounds, it’s more constructive to pick inedible rewards.

My reward to myself was a new dress for my cousin’s wedding. It was fun to go shopping for my new shape and the experience had the added bonus of keeping me motivated to stay on plan.

5) Cognitive Restructuring: Refuting faulty thinking with positive self-talk.

Do you remember the character Stuart Smalley from Saturday Night Live? The skit was titled, “Daily Affirmation with Stuart Smalley.” Stuart, a bleached-blond, effeminate man, would try and help his guests fix their problems and at the end of the skit he would look in the mirror and say, “I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”

Hollywood loves to mock the self-help movement and that skit was hilarious. But Stuart actually had a good point. A positive internal dialog is vital if you’re trying to change your behavior.

Just think about the following statements. Which one do you think is more likely to get a positive result?

“I might as well eat the fried chicken and mashed potatoes because I’m never going to be able to lose weight and keep it off.”


“I’ve conquered the corporate world, survived two teenagers, and assisted my parents through multiple illnesses. I can figure out how to eat salads and exercise.”

6) Social Support: The physical and emotional comfort we get from family, friends and co-workers.

Success is rarely achieved on your own. Reach out to people to help you. I know I’m more likely to go to the gym if I’m meeting someone there.

7) Stress Management: Learning to change how we manage stress.

A lot of us are stress eaters. We love our comfort food, but that’s a horrible habit.

Since stress is a part of life, you’ve got to develop different coping strategies instead of food. Meditation, exercise, talking with friends, there are a variety of things you can do to relieve stress.

Since I’ve yet to successfully meditate, I rely on exercise and chatting, or venting, which is probably a more accurate description. There’s nothing like a good kvetch session to get out some frustration.

There you have it. Who knew you just had to use your brain.

Now go get thinking!

Thursday, September 16

Food Spotlight: Oy! It's Poi

At a Hawaiian luau Monday night, I dined on many local dishes: kalua pig (pulled pork), lomi lomi salmon (cold salmon, onions and tomatoes), poke (raw ahi tuna salad), lau lau (fish, chicken and beef wrapped in taro leaves and steamed), and poi (pounded taro plant).

The pork, slow-cooked all day in an imu (an underground oven) and the tuna were my favorites. Poi was, um, a different story.

A purplish-gray paste, poi has the consistency of Mastic, that stuff you use to adhere tile to a wall. While it looks like a hideously unappetizing blob on your plate, it actually doesn’t taste bad. In fact, it doesn’t taste like anything. It reminds me of grits, not in texture, but with no flavor of its own, it takes on the taste of whatever you pair with it. For example, Hawaiians sprinkle sugar over it for breakfast and eat it with salty lomi lomi salmon for dinner.

Given its benign flavor profile, and the fact that Hawaiians had access to many other food sources, I wondered why anyone would cultivate it. And why would they make it a part of their daily diet?

It turns out, poi, which is made from the taro plant, has been cultivated across the world for over 5,000 years. Ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt and India all have accounts of taro as a dietary staple. In the Hawaiian culture taro is sacred and believed to have the greatest life force of all foods. When poi is uncovered at the family dinner table, it is believed that the spirit of Haloa, the ancestor of the Hawaiian people is present and therefore, all conflict among family members has to come to an immediate halt.

Poi is the Hawaiian version of, “shut up and eat your dinner.”

And it’s relatively healthy. It’s low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium and is a good source of vitamins E, B6, and C, as well as potassium, magnesium and iron.

Hmm, who knew?

Even so, I’m afraid poi will remain a Hawaiian dietary staple, not one of mine.

One Hawaiian dish I am adding to my appetizer repertoire is tuna poke (pronounced POH-kay). If you like ahi sashimi (raw tuna), then you’ll love this.

Basic Hawaiian Tuna Poke

4 cups ahi (yellowfin tuna, sashimi grade) diced
1/2 cup onion, minced
1/4 cup green onion, minced
1 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all the ingredients together and chill well. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 15

Hula Dancing. It's the Next Big Thing in Exercise.

Aloha from The Big Island of Hawaii!

Michael and I are enjoying a week-long vacation on The Big Island of Hawaii, and as expected, it's fabulous.

While I have yet to utilize the hotel's fitness center, I have been getting my NEAT on. (Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis, a/k/a physical activity.) Between sailing, snorkeling, and a full day of hiking through Volcanoes National Park, I've dropped into bed at night happily, but totally exhausted.

And Michael has had a bit of an epiphany out here. My exercise-abhorring husband has finally found an activity that he enjoys. In terms of cardio training, hula dancing apparently sucks the least for him. (play the video below to see him in action.)

Now if I can only get American Family Fitness to offer a class...

Thursday, September 9

The Least of Multiple Evils

I’ve never experienced “runner’s high” or “cyclists’ euphoria.” (Okay, I made that last one up.) But my point is, I’ve never felt exhilarated with any form of cardio workout. I do it because I know I have to, not because I find ecstasy in the activity. I am always most thrilled when it’s over.

Not surprisingly, when my life gets hectic, my cardio workouts fall by the wayside. I maintain my healthy eating and strength training, but cardio, oh no, I don’t have time for that!

Now that school has started, I have no more excuses—at least not legitimate ones—for not doing my cardio training.

“You need to find an activity you enjoy, that way you’re less likely to skip it.” That’s the advice from fitness experts. Yeah, well, smarty pants fitness people, what if you don’t like ANY of that stuff. Then what?

They don't have an answer for me. 

So, I fall back on the advice of Robert, one of Michael’s previous bosses. Robert’s career advice to Michael was, “All work sucks. So find work that pays the most and sucks the least.”

I think that guy missed his calling as a motivational speaker.

Robert’s point is well taken though. For me, all cardio sucks, so I need to pick the one activity that sucks the least.

And the winner is….cycling. 

In the darkened room, I can sit down, close my eyes and get lost in the music. For some reason being able to shut my eyes is important. I’ve tried closing them while running on the treadmill, but things didn’t go well. Definitely don’t try it, unless you like the feeling of almost being catapulted into the wall behind you.

There is still no ecstasy in cycling, but for me, it sucks the least.

Tuesday, September 7

Food Spotlight: Alcohol

Michael and I being "healthy"

Well, it’s finally happened. The news I’ve been waiting for is here.

Moderate daily alcohol consumption is considered healthy. Say it with me people, WOO HOO!

A Dutch study followed 1,400 men for 40 years and found that the ones that drank a half-glass of wine daily outlived their abstaining counterparts by almost four-and-a-half years. Those poor schmoes who didn’t drink thought they were doing the right thing and low and behold their wine-loving friends ended up toasting them at their funeral. It just doesn’t seem fair, does it?

I know, I know, you’re probably thinking, it’s a small study, and they’re Dutch so maybe that makes a difference, and what about women?

I had all those questions too and it turns out, there’s volumes of research on alcohol consumption and it’s impact on an individual’s health.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) echoes the Dutch study, reporting that moderate drinkers have the greatest longevity. The NIAAA also found that moderate drinking is beneficial to heart health, resulting in a sharp decrease in heart disease risk (40%-60%).

Furthermore, an extensive review of recent medical research by the NIAAA found that, with few exceptions, studies from at least 20 countries around the world demonstrate a 20- to 40-percent lower coronary heart disease (CHD) incidence among drinkers compared to nondrinkers. Moderate drinkers exhibit lower rates of CHD-related mortality than either heavy drinkers or abstainers.

And the benefits cross gender lines. Both men and women have decreased risk of coronary heart disease with moderate alcohol consumption.

What I find really fascinating is this chart:

People who don’t drink at all have almost the same risk of mortality as heavy drinkers. The lowest risk category are the “one drink a day” folks.

How is this possible?

Scientists point to the numerous benefits of alcohol, including:

   It increases good cholesterol in your blood and decreases bad cholesterol
   It decreases blood clotting
   It reduces coronary artery spasm in response to stress
   It increases coronary blood flow  
   It reduces blood pressure 
   It reduces blood insulin level 
   It increases estrogen levels
   It reduces harmful arterial plaque

The key, of course, is MODERATION! 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, moderate drinking is defined as one glass a day or less for women and two glasses a day or less for men. And you can’t save up and drink seven glasses in one night. Binge drinking is harmful and doesn’t provide the same benefits as a consistent daily pattern. Plus, it makes you feel like crap in the morning. And it makes me want to go to Five Guys for a burger and fries, which isn’t really on my healthy eating plan.

Also, you should fill your glass with red wine or dark beer. Red wine has an antioxidant known as resveratrol and dark beer is rich in flavonoids. These are known to fight the effects of damaging free radicals. (I think that means if you drink red wine or dark beer you’re also helping to fight Al-Qaeda. You know I'm kidding, right?)

There are, of course, categories of people that shouldn't drink at all---recovering alcoholics, pregnant women, persons under 21, and anyone advised against drinking by their physician. And the American Heart Association recommends that you shouldn't start drinking (if you don't already) just for health purposes. 

For the rest of us, however, the ones that are trying to justify their wine consumption, this is fantastic news.

So let’s get healthy people. Meet me at the bar and we’ll toss back a glass of red goodness or a dark, frothy lager. But just one, or two, if you're a boy.

Now if I can just get the scientific community to sanction the consumption of large amounts of cookie dough my life would be fabulous.