Wednesday, November 23

Surviving the Holidays

Tomorrow, turkeys will be roasting, pies will be baking and elastic waistbands will be expanding all over America.

It is possible to enjoy the holidays without wrecking your healthy habits, but it takes some planning.

Below are my favorite holiday tips. Advice I’ve gleaned from experts over the years that help me enjoy the holidays and keep my fat pants where they belong, buried in the back of the closet.

  • Shift into weight maintenance mode. Losing weight during the holidays is unbelievably difficult, so shift your focus to simply not gaining weight. Maintain the status quo, i.e., exercise when you can, opt for healthy snacks and meals and pick up the weight loss goal when the holiday goodies and parties have disappeared.  Do this and you’ll be way ahead of most people in January. The typical weight gain between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is five pounds.
  • Alternate alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks. The party invites have started to pour in. That’s good, and bad. As I noted in last week’s blog, beverages are a huge source of hidden calories. To keep the calories to a minimum, after enjoying an alcoholic beverage have a zero-calorie nonalcoholic drink. I like to alternate with a glass of water. This keeps me hydrated and prevents me from over-consuming at the buffet table. A side effect of a little too much alcohol. 
  • Prepare to party. Before heading out to the cocktail party or happy hour, decide what you’re going to indulge in and cut back on calories during the day in anticipation. And stick to your plan! 
  • Eat and drink before you go. Don’t ever show up to a party hungry. That’s like taking a sex addict to a brothel. The temptation to indulge is overwhelming. Eat a light snack before you go, ideally something with protein and/or fiber so you’ll feel full. (e.g., a cup of Greek yogurt or apple slices with peanut butter or veggies and hummus) And chase it with a tall glass of water. You’ll arrive hydrated and satiated and be less likely to slam down the first drink and dive into the spinach and artichoke dip.
  • Do not, I repeat, do not stand next to the buffet table. It’s absolutely impossible to stand next to a table of food and not graze. You’ll munch mindlessly, devouring a bowl of M&Ms before you know it. Don’t put yourself in this position. Get a plate, choose what you want and walk away. Far, far away.
  • Channel your inner toddler. If you really think about holiday food, most of it isn’t that good. Store bought cookies and cakes, ho hum. Green bean casserole, no thank you. Be a food critic. Take a little bite, if it’s not stupendous, pass. Save your calories for the things you absolutely love and pass on all the stuff that’s just “okay.”
  • Move, move, move. With holiday shopping gearing up, gym attendance typically goes down. Don’t let that translate into no movement at all. Find little ways to increase your movement throughout the day. Take the stairs, park far away from store entrances or go for a walk after meals. Every bit of activity will help burn those extra calories.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Friday, November 18

Dear God, It’s Eggnog Season

Pumpkin spice lattes, peppermint mochas and eggnog, oh my!

As we welcome the season of thanks, we begin the most challenging time of year to maintain healthy habits.

Homemade goodies magically appear in the break room. Favorite recipes, handed down from generations, flood the buffet table. As if that wasn’t tempting enough, restaurants and bars whip out their holiday menus enticing us to “get in the spirit of the season” and “eat, drink and be merry” with their calorie-laden treats.

I’m all for eating, drinking and merriment, but the extra pounds that go with it, no thank you.

So, how do you survive without going up a pant size?

For starters, know thy enemy.

One of the season’s biggest calorie busters is beverages.

Picture this…you’re at the mall, shopping for gifts, feeling festive and joyful (or crabby and tired, depending on the crowds), either way what you really want is a little pick-me-up. Stopping in the local Starbucks you see their beautiful print ad for a peppermint mocha. Well, doesn’t that sound just perfect, you think. “Would you like whipped cream with that?” the cute little tattooed and pierced barrista asks.

“Why yes I would,” you reply. Why not, right? It’s the holidays.

You leave Starbucks, holding a steaming cup of peppermint goodness and wander down to Nordstrom to drool over their shoe inventory. Ah, pure bliss. Right?

Yes, except for the 470 calories you just ingested. Yup. A 16-oz peppermint mocha with all the trimming has almost as many calories and fat as a McDonald’s Quarter-pounder with cheese. (The quarter-pounder has 510 calories.)

Take a look at these holiday beverages and their calorie count.

Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino—470 calories and 13 grams of fat in a 16-ounce serving.
Hot Buttered Rum—418 calories and 17 grams of fat per serving.
Pumpkin Spice Latte—410 calories and 17 grams of fat per 16-ounce serving.
Eggnog—350 calories and 19 grams of fat per 8-ounce serving.
Hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps—380 calories

Yikes! So, what’s a good plan of attack?

1) Skip the eggnog, mochas and spice lattes altogether, which I realize is easy for me to say since I don’t like them anyway, but this is really your best option.

2) If the lattes are your traditional holiday indulgence, then at least make them skinny, e.g., order them with sugar-free syrups, nonfat milk and forego the whipped cream. For comparison, a 16-ounce skinny peppermint mocha has only 130 calories. That's much better than the 470 calories in the full-fat, full-sugar version.

3) Same goes for the eggnog, at least get the light version, although it really doesn’t help much.  It reduces the total calories to 280 per cup versus 350 for the full fat version. Your best bet here is to drink it sparingly.

4) Finally, if you are going to drink alcohol, skip the mixed drinks, instead choose light beer, red wine or a wine spritzer made with club soda. (A typical wine spritzer has only 100 calories.) 

The holidays don't have to sabotage your healthy habits. Arm yourself with information and continue to make good choices.

Thursday, November 10

Food Spotlight: Quinoa

I have recently been introduced to the whole grain quinoa, pronounced keen-wah, not qwin-oh-ah, which I learned the hard way.

I asked for qwin-oh-ah at the grocery store. The store employee cocked her head to the side and gave me the same confused look my dog Snickers does when I ask her where her ball is. Staring at the Kroger employee I repeated my request, “Can you tell me where to find qwin-oh-ah?”

The employee’s befuddled look remained so I added, “It’s a grain. Supposed to be really healthy for you.”

“Oh,” she responded, recognition finally settling in. “It’s called keen-wah, by the way, and you can find it in the bulk bin area,” she added with a chuckle.

As a writer I like to think that I have a fairly decent command of the English language. Apparently not.

So, the correct pronunciation of quinoa is my early Christmas gift to you, to save you from embarrassment at the hands of a grocery store clerk.

You’re welcome.

What exactly is quinoa?

It looks like a grain, it’s cooked like rice, but it’s actually the seed of the Chenopodium quinoa plant which is related to beets, Swiss chard and spinach. Because of this close relation to green leafy vegetables it’s loaded with nutrients—manganese, magnesium, iron, copper and phosphorus.

But the real news is that quinoa is a complete protein, meaning it has all nine essential amino acids that make up a protein. This is fabulous news for vegetarians who are concerned about protein intake. Typically vegetarians need to ingest different types of protein throughout the day to ensure they get all the different amino acids they need. Quinoa supplies everything they need, so no food combining is necessary. The only other plant food with a complete protein profile is soybeans.

One cup of cooked quinoa supplies 8 grams of protein, that’s more protein than in an egg.

Quinoa also has a much lower glycemic index rating than other carbohydrates such as white rice or white potatoes. Making it a great substitute for those items.

So, you get the benefits of a whole grain, i.e. high fiber content, and the satiety of a protein. Win-win!

Where to find it?

I found it at Kroger in the bulk food area. You can also look for it in the aisle with other grain-like products, rice, cous cous etc.

How to prepare it?

While it could easily be an entrĂ©e, I typically serve it as a side dish. Think of it as a substitute for rice. And like rice, you should rinse it before you use it. Quinoa has a bitter-tasting substance on it called saponin, a natural plant chemical. Most of the saponin is removed before it hits your grocer’s shelf, but just to be sure, give it a good rinse under cold water. I put it in a fine mesh metal strainer and run it under cold water for several minutes.

Here’s my favorite weekday preparation of it. I made it the other night and served it along with some broiled mahi mahi. We started the meal with the butternut squash soup recipe from last week. Yum!

And here’s a recipe that sounded interesting, but I haven’t tried it. It’s from the Cooking Quinoa website and apparently the author’s favorite quinoa recipe. She wrote an entire cookbook on quinoa so you’d think this one would be good.

Balsamic Quinoa Salad
  • ½ cup balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ – ½ cup best quality extra virgin olive oil (depending on if you are watching calories)
  • 2 Tbls Dijon mustard
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • Salt, pepper and cayenne pepper, to taste
  • 1 ½ cups quinoa
  • Bouillon cube
  • 5 Sun Dried Tomatoes (Not in oil)
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 4 oz blue cheese
  • 1 can black beans


·      Make dressing by combining vinegar, mustard, garlic, shallots and olive oil.  Season to taste.
·      Add quinoa and bouillon to three cups of boiling water.  Boil for 10 minutes.
·      Rinse quinoa with cool water and place in a fine mesh colander.  Boil more water and place quinoa and sun dried tomatoes in the colander over the water.  Cover with a kitchen towel and lid.  Steam for 10 minutes.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
·      Cook red pepper in a small skillet until tender.
·      Combine red pepper, blue cheese and black beans with quinoa. Add dressing and toss. 

Enjoy your qwin-oh-ah…I mean, keen-wah!

Saturday, November 5

Butternut Squash Soup

Before moving to Richmond, Michael and I lived in Chicago. There are certainly things I don't miss about the Windy City—the hour-and-half commute to work, gray gloomy days that last for months, and of course, the bone chilling cold. But there are a lot of fabulous things about Chicago too—the world-class museums, the vibrancy of a big city, and most of all, the restaurants. Chicago is a great food town.

I worked in a downtown highrise not far from the Sears Tower and on the ground floor was a little Italian eatery where I ate almost daily. Partly because I didn't have to leave the building and believe me, in February when the wind is blowing and snow is swirling around the streets, not venturing outside was a huge benefit. Frankly, they could have served dog food and I would have eaten it for lunch. But they didn't. They had the most fabulous salads and sandwiches and my absolute favorite was their butternut squash soup. Creamy, rich, and with a hint of curry, oh my God, it was truly divine. I've been looking for a recipe to replicate that soup for the last 15 years. I've tried countless homemade recipes, sampled canned butternut squash soup and even tried the fancier boxed organic versions and nothing comes close. They all leave me disappointed.

Until now.

While the following recipe still doesn't quite replicate my Chicago favorite, it's the closest thing I've found. With the leaves turning and winter approaching, this is the perfect companion on a chilly autumn night. And it happens to be squash and pear season, so you can use the freshest ingredients available.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Butternut Squash and Pear Soup (from Dave Lieberman and


  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 medium onions
  • 1 medium butternut squash peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 4 pears, peeled and chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 quart low sodium chicken stock, or enough to cover the squash and pears in a sauce pan
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • Heavy cream
  • Salt, freshly ground black pepper and granulated sugar


  • In a 4-quart saucepan melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the onions and sweat them for a few minutes.
  • Add squash and pears and sweat those too.
  • Pour in the stock, enough to cover the squash and pears.
  • Add the sprig of rosemary and bring to a simmer.
  • Cook until the squash is fork tender, about 15 to 18 minutes.
  • Remove the rosemary.
  • Puree the soup with an immersion blender. (If you don't have one, just puree it in batches in a regular blender.)
  • Add a touch of cream and season to taste.