Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Holiday slacking and soda taxes

Ok, I admit it, I've been slacking with the writing of late--the holiday madness and tidying up projects before 2008 shuts down has gotten the best of me. I'll be posting a few quickies over the next few days and then back to the big guns come Jan. 1 (when you'll really be ready for a swift kick of healthy food in order to detox from every cookie, cup of hot cocoa, cocktail and heavy holiday meal that's crossed your path the past few weeks).
This peaked my interest last week. Thought I'd share it for all you politico-health conscious-foodie New Yorkers. Gov. Paterson has proposed an 18% tax on non-diet soda and sugary-sweet juice drinks (those that contain less than 70% fruit juice). Termed the "obesity tax," the proposal targets rising obesity rates while raising nearly $400 million per year for state health programs. One in four New Yorkers is obese, up from 14% in 1995. Pretty shocking and pretty impressive on Paterson's part. Whether or not the tax will actually deter people from drinking empty-calories and consuming high-fructose corn syrup is hard to say, but I'm hopeful that it will, at the very least, open people's eyes a little wider, making them think twice before reaching for liquid calories that have zero 'value add'. Here's to hoping the proposal will further open the conversation about the state of this country's diet and health status.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Decoding your way through December

It's going to be a boozy, schmoozy holiday season, so great ready for a bumpy ride people. It's December 10th, Christmas and Hanukkah are just 2 weeks away with New Year's following close behind. Which means...you've already logged a handful of holiday parties and have 4 more to go, are still reeling from last Saturday's Santa pub crawl (doesn't wearing a blazing hot Santa suit burn off extra beer calories?), are gearing up for your office party (oh wait, that was last year when your office could actually afford one), and are prepping yourself for the onslaught of over-bearing, eggnog-pushing relatives come the holidays themselves.
So if we're counting down, by the time all is said and done (and to all a good night) we've tallied: 12 pigs in a blanket, 11 mini egg rolls, 10 bacon wrapped dates, 9 pieces of fudge, 8 pieces of brie, 7 shots of spiced rum, 6 handfuls of cocktail nuts, 5 stuffed mushrooms, 4 glasses of that damn eggnog, 3 candy canes, 2 pieces of chocolate cheesecake, and enough cocktails and Christmas cookies to make your head spin (literally) and send your weight off the richter scale (thank god for New Year's resolutions right?).
If the shrieks are sounding in your head, put the brakes on...the scale isn't broken just yet. As I mentioned in an earlier post, we typically gain just 1 single, teeny-weeny pound per holiday season...but it's that single pound that adds up to 5, 10 or more over the years. Damn all those innocent handfuls of red and green M&M's...damn them to hell. In all seriousness though, I love to indulge during the holidays just as we all do...and I think more than ever, we ALL could use a few seriously stiff drinks this season with the economy in its current state of utter bleakness. Here are 10 no-fail tips to get you through the rest of the month unscathed and with cheer, enjoyment, and delight without busting your bathroom scale. If you still find yourself chained to the treadmill come January 2, that's your own call.
10. The holidays occur on simply a few DAYS - that doesn't give you a free hall-pass for the entire month of December! Enjoy the actual day itself to the fullest, indulge -- smartly -- without having a smorgasboard.
9. Keep up with your typical routine throughout the month so that you can add in extra cocktails and treats and a holiday meal here and there. Start your day off with your head in the game. Set the tone of your day with a healthy, balanced breakfast and it won't cause a snowball of mindless nibbling and heavy eating. Your mood and energy levels will keep running full speed.
8. If you have multiple social engagements in a given week, keep tabs on the booze intake, plug in 1-2 special (ie. heavier) meals, and balance things out with exercise, water and lighter fare (read: pack in fruits and vegetables, focus on smaller portions at meal times).
7. Take a second look. Scaling back slightly on portion sizes will allow you to account for the extra 100-300 calories, or more, you're downing on a party-hardy day.
6. Cocktail party situation: before you lay a finger on a coconut shrimp, scan the room, assess your options, and build your plate with strategic confidence. Fill up on fruit and vegetables and lite appetizers if they're available and then choose 2-3 naughty (but oh so nice) hors devours and you're good to go. DON'T stand directly next to the table with the bowl of cocktail nuts, chocolate truffles or tortilla chips (will power doesn't come easy, why punish yourself?) Engage in conversation - whether it's with a friend, colleague or if you're unattached, a potential dating prospect. Hey, they hung misteltoe for a reason!
5. Best cocktail for all you boozehounds (and you know who you are): If you're going for the bottle and it's going to be a long night, skip the calorie-rich eggnog, rum punch and chocolate martinis. Champagne's a 'boozy best' at 85 calories a glass. Ain't nothing wrong with a little bubbly. Otherwise, stick to the basics...red/white wine, vodka and club soda, Johnny W. on the rocks or with a splash of ginger ale. Stick with what you know...and an amount your body can tolerate. Nothing's more humiliating than getting smashed beyond belief at your office party and telling your boss something you probably shouldn't.
4. Save dessert for when it's really worth having. Store bought cookies that have been sitting on shelves for weeks don't generally taste that good. Again, seek options, divide (into a slightly smaller portion), and conquer the dessert table.
3. The office issue. Every year your office gets inundated with gift baskets, boxes of chocolates, random brownies, cupcakes and sugar cookies and the endless bowls of candy wherever you turn. Turn auto-pilot off and step away from the M&M bowl. Think about what you're reaching for and save those calories for when you really want them...just two handfuls of M&Ms or 4 teensy Hershey's kisses can rack up an easy 100 calories in no time flat.
2. Get sufficient sleep and drink enough water...it'll help with those morning-after hangovers.
1. Bring back the basics after a night of holiday cheer. Back on the horse and you'll prevent the slippage and skidding that can lead us into a very sticky New Year.

Ok, now that you're armed and dangerous, go out and have a killer holiday season!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Pear-Pomegranate Fall Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette
It's become tradition for me to make this salad every Thanksgiving -- otherwise my family might bar me from sitting down at the table (if you've ever met my family, you understand). I decided to get a little racy this year and tossed in some whole wheat garlic croutons. I know you're thinking croutons are 'nutritional blasphemy', so I swapped the bread for whole wheat for some wholegrain, higher-fiber goodness. Yes, there's a wee bit of olive oil and butter involved, but 2-3 mini croutons won't set you back too much and they're so freaking good! Everything in balance friends - this salad gets nutritional bonus points...pomegranate seeds are jam-packed with disease-fighting antioxidants and the walnuts are a great soure of healthy omega-3 fats!
Serves 8-10
-1 & 1/2 bags of Mesclun greens
-2 red pears cored and thinly sliced
-1/2 cup toasted walnuts or pecans, chopped
-1/3 cup dried cranberries and/or golden raisins
-4oz (1 small log) goat cheese, crumbled (can substitute w. gorgonzola cheese for a stronger flavor)
-1/3 cup pomegranate seeds

1.5 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup chamapagne vinegar
¼ cup + 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

½ small shallot, minced
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Whisk together mustard and vinegar, slowly drizzle in olive oil while whisking. Add shallot, salt and pepper and whisk until well-blended.

Whole wheat croutons:
1 small whole wheat baguette, cut into small, bite-sized cubes
1 tbsp butter
2 tsp - 1 tbsp olive oil
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
fresh rosemary or thyme (about 2 tbsp)
Melt butter in butter over medium heat, add garlic cloves and cook for about 30 seconds. Add in bread, drizzle in olive oil and sprinkle in fresh herbs (I used a mix of rosemary and thyme). Stir bread until well-coated. Turn off the heat and transfer croutons to a baking sheet. Bake at 375 for about 10 minutes, until golden brown and crisped.

Thanksgiving rebound

I have officially overdosed on my turkey quota for the year. After 3 days straight of turkey and Thanksgiving leftovers in some form or another, I'll save Mr. Turkey for 2009. I hope you all had a warm, family and friend-filled Thanksgiving holiday...overflowing with good food. My family loves the holiday so damn much, we tend to opt for two Thanksgiving meals and all the leftover turkey sandwiches you can eat (I come from a long line of Jewish mothers, what can you do). I must say though, our table (both of them), is always well-balanced...roasted turkey, mashed sweet potatoes, a pear-pomegranate salad (see recipe below), roasted Brussels-sprouts, garlic mashed potatoes, orange-cranberry relish, and my grandmother's classic recipe for insane stuffing. Good thing dinner is actually pretty darn healthful, despite plentiful, because desserts are off-the-hook in my family -- between my uncle's infamous cheesecake, my mom's killer apple pie and a newly-fangled pear-almond tart by yours truly, you could easily go into sugar shock by the end of the evening. (And for the record, I did not have all 3 in one sitting...small slices is my secret to having a little of everything!).
All said and eaten, it's amazing how you can go into the holiday with the best of intentions, keep meals relatively reasonable, and still come out of the weekend feeling like the poor turkey probably does...plump, roasted, and totally over-done. That's the goodness of comforting holiday meals, and I love every bite of it. The trick is to maintain your normal eating routine as much as you can in the days before and after the big feast. Keep tabs on portions of leftovers and treats so you can work them in smartly...like the remains of my fave homemade pumpkin bread that was stashed into my bag on my way back to NYC (thanks Dad!).
Take some time to reboot and rebound from a few days of heavy nibbling and imbibing. Back to basics for most meals, weaving in leftovers and treats here and there (if you still have any). With yesterday's cold, nasty weather, I decided it was the perfect day for a little post-Thanksgiving chicken soup to warm me up and set me up for a nice week of rebounding back into my normal routine...kind of like when you're rebounding from a break-up. It ain't easy to pull yourself out of the depths of relationship despair, but once you do, you feel like a million bucks. After a big grocery shopping trip, I successfully restocked my fridge with tons of fresh produce and all my standard staples to set me smooth-sailing for the week.
So back to the chicken soup...if you never thought you'd be able to whip up homemade chicken soup, think again. This might be one of the easiest, fail-safe recipes ever -- I added some brown rice this time for some depth, but you can leave it out if you wish.

Your Mama's Chicken Soup
1 small whole chicken (ideally free-range or organic)
3-4 celery stalks, chopped
3-4 carrots, chopped (leave the skin on for extra fiber and save time on peeling)
2 small yellow onions, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup brown rice, if desired
1/2 cup chopped leeks, if desired (chop up the white part)
2 small Russet or golden potatoes, if desired
salt and pepper to taste
parmesan or pecorino romano cheese for grating

Get out a massively large pot (like a good-sized pasta pot), wash the chicken and plop it in the pot. Fill up the pot to cover the chicken, about 3/4 of the way to the top. Add in chopped onion, carrot and celery. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and then turn heat to medium and let simmer for about an hour, or until the chicken is fully cooked. Turn the heat off, take the chicken out and skin it, removing white meat (and a little dark if you like) from the breast, thighs and wings. Dump the meat back in the pot. Add in your rice, potatoes and leeks and simmer on medium-low for another 45 minutes until the potatoes and rice are fully cook. Serve up in small bowls with 2-3 tablespoons of the pecorino cheese (my fave because it adds a nice kick of salty, cheesy goodness!).
Makes about 6-8 servings. Sorry, no pic, but I promise it's really tasty!