weight


One of my dearest friends, Francesco Clark, is a skincare guru. So when he says something, I tend to lean in close and lissen up. Recently, though, he said something kind of shocking, especially for a person who loves chocolate as much as I do: He said sugar is bad for the skin.

Shut. The. Heck. Up.

You can read more of his sacreligious statements here in this column. Initially, I thought, Blasphemer! How many pounds of sugar have you and I ingested together?! But I was a little hyper from eating about 12 macaroons at the time. (Macaroon recipe coming soon.) When I calmed down a bit and re-read the article, I thought, Well…

Hmm….

Maybe–MAYBE–there’s something to this. It wouldn’t hurt to try, would it?

Yes. Yes it would, I thought. Giving up sugar would hurt a lot. I love my sugar. But does it love me back? Not really, when I look closely at my skin, which looks okay but certainly doesn’t get the compliments it used to. Or when I look at my thighs. And let’s not drag my butt into this conversation, because it’s just too heavy to be dragged.

So Fran didn’t exactly lay down a challenge when he gently suggested cutting refined sugar intake down. Diane Chang, the author of the article, is going for two weeks without sugar. WOAH. That sounds like an awful lot of days without a reason to live.

But I do love a challenge. I don’t know why, because I often fail these challenges miserably–stay tuned for my wretched results at the More Magazine Half-Marathon. But I like to try. It’s that darn indomitable spirit of mine. Please remind me to have a doctor take a look at removing that at my next checkup.

So, here I am on Day 1 of not eating refined sugar. How far will I get? And will you join me? Stop laughing, I’m serious…

Over-eaten.

My apologies for so few new posts these days, but as I mentioned perhaps a few too many times, I’ve been hard at work writing additional chapters for the paperback edition of Cherries in Winter. There are a few new recipes too, and those required testing. (That is one of the least difficult parts of this job of mine, and The Hubbins and I are always up for that non-challenge.) My deadline is Thursday, and I just sent in my new chapters to my paperback editor Andrea today, so please join me in finger-crossing that everything goes well.

In other news that will make my race headline even more meaningful, here’s an update on my training for the More Half-Marathon: Both my running partner, my dear friend Linda, and I have fallen so far off our training schedules it would be funny if it weren’t so pathetic. Both of us got swamped in work and one of us took a fabulous trip to Italy (hint: Regrettably, it wasn’t me). The consequence is that we’re now more prepared for The Far Side’s hundred-meter mosey than we are for anything resembling a 13.2 miler.

Under-used.

But will we give up? We will not. First of all, I say I’m going to do something, I do it. Well, I try to do it; I would put my dependability rating at slightly better than that of certain airlines. Second, I have to work off some of the food I ate during the recipe-testing phase of writing those additional chapters. I don’t know how my e-pal and food writer inspiration Melissa Clark writes cookbooks and stays so slim, even though she explained it in this great article. But I’m definitely not following in her footsteps.

So, whether I’m talking about a book deadline or a half-marathon finish line, I’m off to the races! And I’m exhausted already…

I know–“I Heart” week was a while ago. But it helps to indulge in little things I love on days when I’m feeling very much like Bette Davis’s character in Now Voyager (if this reference is unfamiliar, please Netflix this classic, stat).

This was, for those who are still carefully scratching their bouffants about the meaning behind the title of my book, is why Nana bought those cherries in the wintertime. They were a little pricey–fruit out of season in the late 1950s/early ’60s must have been–but it was worth it to spend the money on a small, affordable indulgence. Was this not the entire pre-Recession raison d’etre for Starbucks’ existence–affordable luxuries? Before they started selling cheapo coffee in order to survive, I mean.

You’ll notice I flung about a French phrase, because I’m about to segue into my version of cherries in winter. Sometimes it’s the French raisins from Fairway, but last night it was a lemon tart. I was walking by a small patisserie that had in its window beautiful pastel-colored macarons (as well as coconut macaroons), cookies carefully polka-dotted with chocolate chips, and this lemon tart. This was an extraordinary-looking tart, too–a small pastry of the same sunny, deep yellow as a classic smiley face, which made me happier just by looking at it. It glowed, I tell you, and it was topped by two tiny, artfully arranged chocolate batons. The care that went into making this delicate little thing was evident not only by how beautiful it was, but also by its cost–five dollars and fifty cents. (If that doesn’t sound like much, you must still have a job. Congratulations!) Sensing that the tart would be worth every penny, I gladly handed over the money and thought about Nana enjoying her cherries.

BTdubya, the pastry was sheer perfection. Not too sweet, not too tart–just the way you want life to be. The Hubbins said he had too much fatness from dinner to eat it, but one look at this special thing and he changed his mind. There weren’t but six perfect bites to it anyway.

Usually, a sugary indulgence triggers some caloric guilt in me. But recently, I read a great passage about this in Confections of a (Closet) Master Baker by Gesine Bullock-Prado. She writes about the joy of quality over quantity: “One of our regulars, Claude, gets a scone every day. He’s lost over fifty pounds since we opened [her fabulous bakery]. I’ve noticed the same kind of conscious consumption at the dwindling small pastry shops around the States. When kids have the experience of choosing something from a pastry case and knowing that the little tart they’re going to take home was baked today, just a few steps from where they’re standing, they’ll savor that small treat, instead of thoughtlessly devouring the entire contents of an economy-sized Acme brand bag of cookies.” Amen, Gesine, because yesterday I was that kid.

(Full disclosure: Gesine and I are represented by the same literary agency, and in fact, I’d recently asked–okay, begged–her to write the foreword for the paperback version of Cherries in Winter. She had to turn me down because she’s working on her next book, so this was not me trying to win her over. I just like the way she thinks.)

What stops you from starring in your own version of Now Voyager?

The other day I got an email from a popular book giant suggesting a list of titles I might be interested in. Among them: guides that would instruct me on how not to look fat–not how to keep from becoming fat, mind you, but just how not to look fat–how not to get crushed to death by too many accumulated possessions a la the Collyer Brothers, how to make decisions, how to eat mindfully (and, hopefully, negate the need for the book on how not to look fat), and how what I’ve put on the end of my fork could be contributing to the end of the world (and, presumably, how to keep that from happening).

Wow. That company must think there are some things I really need to work on. I’d be offended if I weren’t so busy worrying about what I’m eating, how I’m eating, and whether I look fat after I’ve eaten. And if I’ll be able to find a mirror to check my fatness with all the stuff I’m hoarding–which, if I ordered all the suggestions on this list, would consist mostly of self-improvement books.

I love me a project, I do, and I have to say that for most of my life, my favorite project has been Me. Or, rather, the New and Improved Me, which is a Me that doesn’t exist. I’ve spent a retirement villa in Italy on self-help books, improvement courses, lectures, therapy, guided meditation, tapes, CDs, videos, DVDs, MP3s… The list could go on, but will not. One of the qualities I want the New and Improved Me to have is brevity.

After all this work on improving myself, I’ve finally come to the root of my problem: There’s nothing wrong with me. There is, however, something wrong with wanting to be different from the way I am.

I’m not saying that self-improvement is wrong. If we didn’t strive to be the best person we could be, we would all be rather unhealthy and have Doritos on our breath, and no amount of advice from a famous stylist or Buddhist monk would help us. But if we were wedged in that La-Z-Girl from hell, we wouldn’t need to book to tell us that something was wrong.

One of the best things about being forty-something (okay, fine, 46) is a sense of knowing what works and what doesn’t. For the Actual and Just Fine Me, what works stays, and what doesn’t gets the proverbial heave-ho. Along with shoes that hurt and clothes that are out of date, no matter how not-fat they make me look, I’m also doing a personality purge. I’m getting rid of ideas, thoughts, and goals that no longer work for me, along with the silly crap, the constant effort, the striving, and the basically not living in the present that goes along with that.

Example: Instead of constantly trying to lose those last five or eight or whatever pounds, I’ve lost the aggravation of trying to lose the weight. I took up running, and I do yoga every day. Now, I don’t know what I weigh, but whatever it is, it sure looks fitter than it did before. I’ve quoted my beloved mentor Amy Gross here before when she said, “Fix it or forget it.” Sometimes, by doing the latter, you accomplish the former.

My super-beloved Nana didn’t dwell on things she couldn’t change. She either changed them or she moved on. She had no time or tolerance for things that took her energy away from her family and her work; heck, she was just in survival mode for most of her life, so she learned how to cut pointless fretting out of her life like a chef with a fresh set of as-seen-on-TV Ginsu knives. I’m not going to aspire to do the same. I’m just going to do it.

So, thank you, book giant, for the suggestions of all the self-improvement books. But I think I’ll just stop dreaming of the way I want to be in some ten-pounds-less, who-knows-when future and enjoy my life the way it is, right this very moment.

Anything that makes my life easier works for me. And sometimes, the advice I read seems like something I might have thought of myself–if only I were a little saner and taking a breath every couple of minutes. Here are a few things I’ve found that have taken the pain out of thinking for me, and therefore, I heart them:

* This great article on the Huffington Post is about an amazing new way to lose weight and get healthier. It’s really complex and expensive, though. Ready? The article suggests going outside for a walk. I know, I laughed myself into semi-consciousness too. And yet… It’s just crazy enough to work. In fact, I’ve been doing it, and I lost two pounds last week and feel pretty darn good. Nutty, huh? What will they think of next…

* Jamie Oliver’s recipe for tandoori salmon from his Food Revolution book could NOT have been simpler, unless he’d come over to our place and made it himself. Then again, if he’d done that I would’ve felt obliged to entertain him, and that would mean work. Okay, back to me making it. These are my distilled-from-his-already-easy-instructions:
1. Cut a salmon filet into slices.
2. Marinate them in a nice store-bought Tandoori sauce, and saute in a pan.
3. While salmon is cooking, warm two pieces of naan bread in toaster oven.
4. Mix 1/3 of a chopped, de-seeded cucumber, 1/3 cup of low-fat yogurt, a squirt of lemon, and some cilantro together in a bowl.
5. Put the salmon on top of a piece of whole-wheat naan bread, top the salmon with the yogurt mixture, and eat happily.
The whole thing took about 15 minutes and required zero thought, except for how yummy it all was.

* Back to the Huffington Post again (I know–I’m addicted) for this great piece from Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project. I recently admitted that I’ve got a lot of unfinished projects lying around my office, shooting me accusatory looks. The Rosetta Stone Spanish language program, The Artist’s Way, my half-marathon training schedule, a few dozen books with marks stuck in the middle, etc., etc. At least my taxes are done. But back to Gretchen’s article: Her advice? Finish those projects or abandon them completely, guilt-free. A big duh, maybe, but sometimes you just need permission from someone that it’s okay (spoken in gentle, men-in-white-coats tone of voice) to do that.

If you know of any other great ideas that seem no-brainer-y but sometimes never occur in the midst of chaos, please list them. Here, I mean. Okay, off to schedule a deep breath…

If you stopped by to visit in the later part of last year, you’ll recall that I declared November to be “Banish the Scale” month. I mean, some of the best food opportunities of the year were coming; couldn’t we just enjoy our stuffing (the food and the action) for the holidays and get back to those awful weigh-ins when January rolled (figuratively and literally) around?

Well, there’s good news from our friends in science this morning, and the headline says it all: “Slimmer Doesn’t Always Mean Fitter.” This article from the New York Times combines one of my passions, running, with one of my obsessions, the %$#@! scale. I used to be a scale-aholic until a friend staged an intervention. I hate the idea of just throwing things away, though; I envisioned this perfectly good scale taking up space in a landfill somewhere. So I just put it in the basement, where our building has a little makeshift gym. I figured maybe someone else could use it/become obsessed with meaningless numbers that fluctuate wildly instead of getting in touch with how s/he felt.

When I started running and blogging about it for More.com, though, I brought the scale back upstairs. I figured I should share my starting weight with everyone who was following the blog, and I envisioned the day when I’d show a ten-pound loss and still be writing here about banana bread (recipe coming tomorrow).

Yeah, I know–I’m delusional. But according to the Times piece, I may have nothing to worry about! Maybe my weight is just fine and I’m going to be able to finish that race like a pro! Maybe my friend Donna was right when she said, with all the conviction of a hellfire n’ brimstone preacher, “Be freeeeeeee from the tyranny of the scale! Don’t live by a number! How do you feeeeeeel?”

Pretty good, actually. And I hope, after reading that article, that you do too.

Note lack of scale under feet.

Truly, I am light and yummy.

Okay, let’s get to the obvious question: What is half-pound cake? In order to understand that, we have to go back in time (cue wavy screen effect) to the other night, when I was looking for something new to make for the Hubbins to take to work for a snack. (He’s burned out on my go-to, banana walnut bread, and he’s too clever to be fooled by the addition of chocolate chips to “shake things up.”) An answer came quickly: It’s Meyer lemon season. I had some poppy seeds on hand. So… Uh… Oh yeah, lemon poppy seed pound cake!

I have such great memories of eating this with cafe con leche when I lived in Miami. I also remember gaining about ten pounds during that time. And when I looked up recipes for LPPC, I found out why: Most of them called for about four (4!) sticks of butter–for ONE pound cake. Now that’s truth in advertising right there. When you’re eating pound cake, you know exactly what’s going to happen.

So, I did what I usually do–ignored instructions and adapted. This tactic doesn’t work well with electronics or medication, and possibly not for training for a half-marathon (but that’s another post). However, it can work well for baking. To wit: my recipe, below, for a cake adapted from Gale Gand’s recipe for lemon poppy seed cake. She already endeared herself to me by using vegetable oil, and not that much of it, as well as two eggs to the others’ call for five (5!!).

But still, I must tweak, because I am a born tweaker, and I swapped out the refined sugar for the much-healthier agave nectar and low-fat yogurt for full-fat milk. The result is a lighter cake that may only make you gain a half-pound instead of a full one. Hence, the name. Enjoy.

So, since it's a half-pound cake, that means I can have two slices! Right? Right?


Lemon Poppyseed Half-Pound Cake
(Makes one gorgeous loaf)
Ingredients:
1/4 cup poppy seeds
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest plus 1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup plain low-fat yogurt
2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/3 to 1/2 cup agave nectar, depending on your sweetness addiction

Directions:
Combine yogurt, poppy seeds, and lemon zest and let this hang out in the fridge while you do everything else.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a loaf pan.
Combine dry ingredients and mix together.
Get your yogurt mixture from the fridge and add extracts. Mix, then add to dry mixture. Beat in eggs and oil.
Now you’re ready for the sweet part. Agave nectar is 25 percent sweeter than sugar, so start with your quarter cup and go from there, according to how sweet you want your cake. Breakfast snack? Not as sweet. Dessert? Go for the half cup.
Pour batter into prepared loaf pan and bake for 1 hour to 1 and 1/4 hours. Top should be golden and cracked and gorgeous, but test with toothpick or my personal cake-center-testing favorite, a shish-kebab rod. If pick or rod comes out clean, your LPHPC is done. Let cool before tearing into it. And then let me know how you liked it.

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