Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Summertime, and the eating is good...

Yeah that doesn't really work with the melody of "Summertime", but it's accurate. The eating is very good in our house.

But I have NEWS. Food-related news. I am on a "diet"! I "" it because I stopped thinking about "dieting" as "dieting" 12 years ago when I started going to weight watchers. I prefer to think of it as "rethinking what I eat." Because what good is going on a diet for a month, losing 10 or 15 or 50 lbs or whatever (don't lose 50 in one month, that's not healthy!) and then realizing you can't maintain your new "diet" long term, and gaining all or most back? That's just depressing. As someone who is more interested in eating delicious food than making sure it's healthy (there's something to be said for that, and you definitely can make delicious and super healthy food, but I have a serious sweet tooth and am somewhat lazy), I'd rather just educate myself on my food intake.

I also went to a new ear doctor at the beginning of July who recommended a low salt, low caffeine and low alcohol lifestyle to keep my ear stable (fluid is vital to ears, and a high salt diet will really mess up the equilibrium), so it was then that I started really thinking about what I was eating. Also, when I went to the national DAR meeting at the end of June last year, I was so busy and was basically eating just fruit and yogurt in any spare minute I could find, not the lavish sit-down meals at Old Ebbitt's Grill that we'd enjoyed in previous years (best crab cakes ever!), that I lost almost 5 lbs in 9 days, which made my size 8 capris fit and me very happy. This year, I was just as busy but sadly did not lose any weight , but a week after we got back, I shot up to a somewhat horrifying weight I hadn't seen since high school. I realized an immediate change, a "rethinking" was in order.

Step 1: I began to write down everything I ate. I didn't count any calories, I just acquainted myself with what I was eating. I learned that I snack a LOT. And I make very poor choices when I snack.

Step 2: I downloaded the My Fitness Pal app on my iphone (it's free!). I did start calculating calories after that first week, and then my husband said, you know, I bet there's an app for that. There is indeed. It's easy to input your food and it helps you calculate the calories and other nutritional info. Based on your current weight and height, your normal activity level and your desired weight loss rate, it calculates how many calories you can have in a day. There's a spot to enter in your current weight. And even better, it remembers the food you've eaten before, so if you eat the same thing every day (like I do, for the most part) it's right there and you just need to select it.

Step 3: I actually haven't gotten here yet: exercise. I am lazy and hate to exercise. I walk instead of driving whenever it's possible, but I choose not to count it as exercise, especially since I'm pretty sure each walk is burning less than 100 calories.

Since the day I stepped on the scale and saw the "horrifying weight", I've lost 11 lbs. I've set my app to lose only 1lb a week, and it's been a month, but I'm still overeating (according to their calculations) yet still losing. This makes me think I was horrible, horrible snacker before.

Now this dress fits! Much excitement :)

Fortunately, with the farmer's market just down the street, it's very easy to eat large quantities of nutritious and low-calorie food, like beets, cabbage, zucchini, etc. I'm not overly hungry, and sometimes when I have a very large helping of veggies (such as the night I decided to just cook up all the broccoli, it was a very small head of broccoli and I'm the only one here who likes it) I'm pretty full. The nestle's chocolate chip cookie recipe comes out to 150 calories per ounce of dough. My "big" cookies are about 1oz. I think my big splurge right now is corn on the cob (usually no butter), it looks healthy but it's like 90 calories an ear.... and I can easily gobble up 4 ears of corn at dinner- I loooove fresh corn.

Anyway, that's my current update. Please note: this isn't necessarily right for everyone. It may not even be the best thing for me, but I feel good, I'm healthy (my doctors agree) and I'm sticking to it. The only thing I can recommend is being fully aware of what you eat. If you're not happy with your weight, write down your food intake. Pay attention to your activity. A lot of weight-gain seems to be because people just aren't paying attention to what they're doing. It's far too easy to open that tupperware container of chocolate chip cookies and lose track of how many you've eaten.

Because of my efforts, I'm not baking much (except bread, since I have toast for breakfast every day) unless it's to bring somewhere or give someone. I reallllly want to make some jerky, we bought some at the VT beer festival and it's delicious, makes a very filling snack (even just a couple bites) and it's only 70 calories an ounce! 1oz of jerky is kind of a lot, too.

But now to the recipes. We've been eating a ridiculous number of turkey burgers. At about 300 calories a burger, plus an ear of corn and some broccoli or a helping of corn and blueberry salad, it's a very filling dinner for a decent number of calories. I've also been playing around with a lot of Penzey's spice blends: Northwoods on corn on the cob makes you forget you ever even put butter on corn in the first place, and Muskego Ave seasoning on broccoli will make you devour the entire head of broccoli (unfortunately, both of these blends contain salt so watch out).

Turkey Burgers
recipe adapted from a recipe from the July/August issue of Everyday Food

1lb ground turkey
3T panko
1T whole grain mustard
1t dried sage
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Mix all together. Form into 5 patties, and grill or broil until done (like 5-7 minutes on each side)

Easy peasy! We've been buying some delish whole wheat ciabatta rolls at the grocery store, which are 140 calories each, although the photos here are of kaiser rolls- we've tried just about every roll they carry. I should dig up my burger bun recipe and just make my own, because those were pretty darn good.

Blueberry Corn Salad
loosely adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod

kernels from 3-4 ears of cooked (steamed, boiled, grilled) corn, cut off (however much you have)
3/4-1 cup blueberries (or more, or less)
2T lime juice
1T honey
2T minced pickled jalapenos
1/2t cumin
1/4t chipotle powder (or less)
dash salt

Whisk the lime juice, honey, and spices together, then toss with the corn, berries and jalapenos. 

This is delicious. I've made it like 5 times now. Last night I actually got a little crazy and substituted this for corn and bean salad for our fish tacos. There is about 400-500 calories in the entire salad (depending on how much corn and how many blueberries you use, last night's batch was 312g corn (312 cal) and 300g blueberries (170 cal), and we usually get 6-8 servings out of each batch. Help yourself to seconds!

You also see on my plate onion rings. These are not healthy. They're not exactly unhealthy, since they're baked. They're dipped in flour, dunked in flour/egg/buttermilk and coated in panko drizzled with olive oil. They are ridiculously good, but I haven't made them nor calculated the calories since I started paying attention to my food intake. I'll report back when I figure it out! I like to eat them with storebought BBQ sauce. This is also not all that healthy, but it's my little indulgence!

Monday, July 30, 2012

What's Baking? July: Summer Fruits

This month's What's Baking? theme of "Summer Fruits" was chosen by Jaida of Sweet Beginnings. This was perfect for me because one of my favorite summer activities is picking fruit from Tougas Farm in Northboro! I was very eager to get over there on July 6th, as soon as I was back from traveling. I hadn't picked blueberries at Tougas before, only because of the timing in previous years, and I forgot how slow-going it is- I picked by myself and it took me 1.5hrs to get 8.5lbs. I really wanted 15lbs (bulk discount on 15+lbs) but by 8.5lbs I was DONE. Fortunately, I've been able to stretch these berries all month, and will use the last of them tonight in my 4th (or 5th?) batch of blueberry corn salad- our favorite new recipe of the summer.

I picked these blueberries on Thursday, and on Friday we had a seriously blueberry-themed dinner. When I asked Clint what he wanted, he said blueberry cake (not pie? no, cake. That was ok, since it was hot and I was pretty sure pie crust would not cooperate anyway.) and how about blueberry bellinis? I'd never have thought of bellinis. Now we are down to only 2 bottles of wedding prosecco left (September is our 3rd anniversary, so maybe by then we'll finish it all off!)

Blueberry Bellinis, from The Cookin' Canuck
(they look a little weird, from the floating/oxidation of the blueberry puree, but boy are they tasty!)

 Here's our dinner for the evening, which has been repeated endlessly- I'd say ad nauseam, but each repetition is just as/more delicious than the last! Baked onion rings, mustard and sage turkey burgers, and corn and blueberry salad. Stay tuned for those recipes.

But the cake is really want you bakers want to see! I found this on tastespotting and of the cake recipes I found, I chose this for its simplicity.  It also seemed healthier than the other recipes I saw, it uses only one stick of butter (but then, it only makes one 9in round pan of cake, so it's about a normal amount of butter for a cake). It also looked a lot prettier than some of the other things!

And I seem to have chosen right, it's quite delicious. I made it the following weekend for a potluck picnic and it was *devoured*. It doesn't have a huge amount of sugar, so I didn't feel guilty having a piece for breakfast, either ;)

Blueberry Buttermilk Cake
recipe from Kitchen Confidante

1 stick of unsalted butter, at room temp
1/2 cup + 2T white sugar (original was 3/4 cup)
1 egg
1 cup flour (on my second batch I used 1/3 WW flour and 2/3 AP)
1/2 t baking soda
1/4t salt (I used a pinch, having made this 3 days after my doctor recommended a low-salt diet :( )
1/4t allspice (original recipe called for 1/8t cinnamon, but allspice is now my spice of choice when using blueberries)
1/2 cup buttermilk (seriously, don't bother buying is: 1/2 cup milk + 1/2T white or cider (depending on what you're baking) vinegar. Let sit for a few minutes before using)
1-1.5 cups of blueberries, divided

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter/flour (or Pam-spray and flour) a 9inch pie dish.

Cream the butter and sugar, add the egg and beat til fluffy, a few minutes. Whisk the dry ingredients and add in small batches to the butter/egg mixture, alternating with the buttermilk. Finally, fold in half the blueberries gently, and transfer batter to the prepared baking dish. Drop the remaining blueberries on top.

Bake for 25-30min (more like 35-40 for me, my oven has issues (even though the thermometer says the temp is accurate!)), until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Serve alone for breakfast, with whipped cream, ice cream or a sprinkle of powdered sugar for dessert, double it and bake in a 9x13 (with enough batter leftover for a loaf pan) and cut into squares for a quick snack. The only thing I can't recommend is baking these in a muffin tin, because somehow that completely failed for me- no idea why.

But do you notice how quick the instructions are? The first night I made this, I turned the oven on, got all the ingredients out, made the batter, washed the berries, added them, got the batter into the pan, all before the oven was up to temp! This is the perfect weeknight dessert.

The cake itself is incredibly light and fluffy, and for some reason I'm used to cakes with fruit being heavier, like a pound cake (my mom's favorite blueberry cake is in a bundt pan and pound cake-like, but oh boy that's delicious, she's been making every summer that since Martha Stewart had it on in like 2001) or more like a gingerbread cake consistency. But this is the ideal cake for a hot summer day- and fortunately, I've been living on our screen porch just off the kitchen, so I'm perfectly happy to have the oven on! :)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Nothing normal ever happens to me.

I had a very specific schedule today. Drive to CT to get a filling replaced (uuuugh). Go back to my parents' house to recuperate. Stop by a friend's house. Stop by another friend's house and stay for a quick dinner. Return home.

What actually happened is that I got on the road ahead of schedule (seriously folks, this never happens. I should have known something was up!), got on the highway, went about 20 miles and then....

I heard a strange noise. And felt a strange rumbling. And got a strange feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. I pulled over immediately (thank god there was no traffic!) and had a seriously flat tire. Fortunately, a really nice guy also pulled over- he told me later that he smelled something odd, looked around and saw my flat tire and also that I was a woman and might not know what to do (I was still in panic mode when he said this, so was unable to get offended). He helped me change my tire, and I called my husband and the dentist to tell them of my predicament.

The interesting part to this story (you see, it's not just "I had a flat tire, boo"), is that it's beyond a flat tire. It's a flatty-flatty-flat-flat tire. Or possibly an exploded tire. I have never seen a tire like this.

All those holes go through all the layers of the tire, into the inner air space. I'm pretty sure there are pieces of my tire still on the highway somewhere in southern MA.

The irony here is that I splurged on these tires. I went and got the 80K mile Michelins, thinking that if I got the best ones, I'd have them for the rest of the time I had the car. I've only had them for 35K miles- and on the Michelin website, they say this line of tire is under warranty for up to 50K miles (it's iffy whether I qualify because of when I bought my tires). But I'm thinking this sort of damage isn't exactly normal, right?

The other bit of irony is that I took my car today instead of Clint's newer car because his car has a little tire issue that we wanted to figure out before we took it back on the highway. Lovely.

And I have to reschedule the dentist appointment for another day. Le sigh.

Monday, July 23, 2012

20th Annual Vermont Brewer's Festival: Drink Vermont Beer!

ok! if you say so!

This past Saturday we went up to Burlington, VT, for beer fest. Beer fest is quite fun, even back when I didn't actually drink beer. Now that I do (and also, that they have more options of the type of beer I like (i.e. wheaty), it's massively fun.

The first year I went, I enjoyed ciders and free sodas, Zero Gravity's Gruit (hops-less beer, the gateway beer for me), and gave my extra tickets to my boyfriend. The second year I went, I liked more beer so I drank more beer, but of course you only keep your head about you for so long, so I can't really tell you any of the good ones.

This year, I had a plan. I jotted down all the breweries that had something I particularly wanted to try (not what exactly I wanted, so towards the end, I really had no idea why I was going to this particular booth) and made a note of the order in which I tried each thing. This also slowed us down, and as a result, all 4 of us felt pretty fantastic on Sunday morning (that and the free ice water provided). We arrived an hour and a half before the session started (there are 3 sessions: Friday evening, Saturday day and Saturday evening, we always go to the Saturday day session, then have dinner in Burlington before heading back) and got an amazing spot in line (Clint's holding our spot in the first picture, he is beyond the stone sculpture thing, at the very, very front). They checked IDs before letting us into this little holding area, then at 11 scanned our tickets and gave us our tasting glasses and tasting tickets to let us into the actual festival area, where we were stopped by ropes and had to wait until the official start time, 11:30 (give or take 10 minutes) to go beyond the ropes to the beer tents.

We were pretty alert and excited while we waited to get across the ropes. During this time, I had the brilliant notion to scour the booklet and make a note of all the breweries I wanted to visit.

They had some real characters working. I can imagine this guy has never missed a beer fest. He wore a necklace of bottle caps.

And then we were in!! We made a beeline for Lawson's (of Waitsfield, VT), since they ran out last year. Here is Clint and his first tasting of the day, a collabeeration (ha) between Lawson's Finest Liquids and Maine Beer Company, with assistance from Valley Malting in Hadley, MA.

I had Session in the Rye, which had an interesting flavor that I can't identify- probably rye. It was wheaty but with a hint of something else, kind of like multigrain bread. I have a palette but it's not very well-educated.
Next we headed towards Dieu du Ciel, another brewery that ran out last year. Dieu du Ciel is from Quebec, so unlike most of the other breweries present, if you don't try it at the festival, you can't go out and get it (unless you go to Canada). Everyone else apparently had this same idea, because the line was incredibly long- I should have taken a picture. Think Space Mountain at Disney World.

On the way, however, we paused at Fiddlehead (Shelburne, VT) for the Mother Goose, which G got first and said wasn't great, so I let Clint get a tasting and I'd just try his. Well, I liked it! It was a pale, wheaty beer with a taste of gooseberries (and actual gooseberries added before serving), and since I like gooseberries, I thought it was pretty neat!

On the left is the Mother Goose, on the right is Zero Gravity's Juhlia, description below.

Anyway, now we're in line at Dieu du Ciel, and it's impossibly long. So D and I ran next door to Zero Gravity (of Burlington, VT) for our favorite Gruit. D took home a growler. This was a smart move, I wish I had done the same. However, I am actively trying to lose weight right now, and having a growler of delicious hops-less beer in my fridge is not conducive to the weight loss attempts (8lbs down so far! go me!)

Ok, now we started getting a little confused. While D and I were in line at Zero Gravity, Clint got in line a few people behind us, to try the Juhlia, a Finnish style beer (Juhlia is Finnish for celebration), which was a collabeeration with Earth, Bread and Beer Brewery from Mt Airy, PA. G held our places in the Dieu du Ciel line, and D and I were both hoping to try Rose d'hibiscus (Belgian Wit with hibiscus flowers) and G and Clint were going to try Umami (Morel Beer- very brief descriptions!), but the tap wasn't up yet for Umami so below Clint shows off Aphrodite, a cocoa and vanilla stout that we enjoyed at the first beer fest we attended. The hibiscus one was really good, like dunking a hisbiscus herbal tea bag in your belgian white. I know, not for everyone, but I liked it- especially on a hot day, it was pretty refreshing.

By this time, it was too much to deal with the camera anymore, so that's the end of the beer pictures. I tried, really I did!

So now I've used 3 tickets but finished off Clint's Mother Goose, so technically we're each on beer 4.

Beer 4: from Hopfenstark Brewery of L'Assumption, Quebec
Boson de Higgs (Berlinder rauch saison) and La Frambise (raspberry witbeer). I remember the raspberry as being good, but just standard raspberry witbeer good, not amazing.

Beer 5: from Defiant Brewing Co. of Pearl River, NY
Defiant Muddy Creek Lager  (Clint) and Defiant Raspberry Wheat (me)- the raspberry wheat was kinda sorta about the same as the previous raspberry wit.
D and G went to Wormtown, which was in the tent 2 down from Defiant. Clint and I declined to go there, since this place is about a half mile from our house and we could walk there. (Have we? We'll fix this). They tried the Charles II and Maizok, both of which were decent (I had one sip of each, so I can't elaborate)

Beer 6: Cape Ann Brewing in Gloucester, MA
Sunrise Saison, aka strawberry rhubarb beer (me- it was all I could do to mark down what I had, much less Clint). This beer was excellent. Have you had the strawberry rhubarb wine from Nashoba Valley Winery? This is the beer version- the strawberry and rhubarb flavor is apparent, but not overwhelming, and it's just a tiny bit sweet. I used my very last ticket for this one as well.

"Beer 7": Cheese tasting!
At beer fest, they have an "Education Tent" set up, where for the price one of your tickets, you can sit in a covered area and learn and eat and drink. We so enjoyed the beer and cheese pairing last year that we decided to do it again. It was hosted by Harpoon brewery and VT Farmstead Cheese. They paired UFO white with Brick Hause Tilsit (similar to a harvati), then Rye IPA with Windsordale, then the classic Harpoon IPA with alehouse cheddar (a cheddar made using beer, then soaked in beer, then beer is used a third time somehow), and then Munich Dark with a pepper windsordale. I think I liked the first pairing the best, but the alehouse and pepper windsordale cheeses the best. The pepper windsordale was hot but it was almost more smoky than hot. I didn't really care for the Munich Dark, too bitter for me.

Beer 8: Vermont Pub & Brewery (Burlington, VT)
This was a surprise- I went in for Forbidden Fruit (beer fermented with 500lb of fresh raspberries per batch), but D ordered (that) first, then asked the girl what her favorite was, and she replied that she loves the "Chocolate Raz"- half Forbidden Fruit and half Lake Champlain Chocolate Stout. So of course I tried that. And it was pretty ridiculously good. I'm not such a fan of chocolate stouts, they're just a little too heavy for me, but the lighter raspberry beer really cut it down to be drinkable for me. Love, love, love.

Beer 9: Harpoon of Windsor VT
Ginger wheat- not overly gingery, and since I really really love ginger, I would have liked it to be more gingery. But otherwise it was good.
Clint had the Pumpkin Imperial Spruce Stout from Rock Art of Morrisville, VT, which wasn't pumpkiny at all but you could taste the spruce (apparently spruce has a lot of Vitamin C, so if you need to prevent scurvy while drinking a lot of beer, go for a spruce beer)

Beer 10: Magic Hat (South Burlington, VT).
Normally I'm not such a Magic Hat fan, we had a ton of it (and Harpoon and Long Trail) in grad school (not that I drank any of it, since I didn't really like beer until more recently) but I've always enjoyed the fun labels Magic Hat has. Right now there's a contest to design the label on their newest beer.
Apple Pie Ale, using apples from Champlain Orchards. This was pretty good, you could definitely taste the apple flavor. I kind of want to try it again, when my taste buds aren't quite so shot.
and Clint had Captain Jack's Scurvy Syrum (a smoky spruce beer, pretty good!) from Vermont Beer Company in Bradford, VT

Beer 11: Brooklyn Brewery (South Deerfield, MA)
Brooklyn Mary's Maple Porter. My written comments (which are legible, I might add!) were "very good for a porter". I'm a Porter's Girl, but not a porter girl. This one had some maple flavor (again, can I try it when my tastebuds aren't shot?) but wasn't overwhelming. My parents keep pushing for lunch in Deerfield, so maybe we can go and then bop on down the road to Brooklyn Brewery.

Beer 12: Saranac Brewery of Utica, NY
Saranac Shandy, a bottled shandy (something I'd never heard of, gasp!) that was really, really tasty, especially this late in the day.
Clint had their High Peaks Ginger Saison, which, after the shandy, didn't taste like much! oops.

This is when I went over to Allaghash to try their Allaghash white (with coriander and curacao), and they were out. So instead we went over to...

Beer 13: Founders Brewing Company in Grand Rapids, MI (ooh, exotic!)
Cerise, a beer with sour cherries added. I LOVE sour cherries so I thought this was pretty awesome. G didn't agree.
Clint tried the Curmudgeon, an old ale brewed with molasses. We don't remember much about it...

Beer 14: Trapp Lager, of Stowe, VT
Gose, a collabeeration with Magic Hat, wheaty with coriander and sea salt. I like sea salt, so I liked this. Others did not agree.

Finally, Beer 15: a revisit to Cape Ann for the Sunrise Saison (strawberry rhubarb). They're pretty strict about the end time of the festival (partly because they need to clear us all out to get ready for the next session), so they had announcers every few minutes announcing how much longer we had, and as the girl from Cape Ann handed me my beer, the horn sounded, signaling the official end. Just in time!

After that, we wandered over to American Flatbread for some delicious flatbread pizza. We saw many other beer fest attendees (recognizable by our red bracelets), and most of us were guzzling water with our meals.

American Flatbread has cool buzzers to let you know your table is ready.

Next year we'll see if I can be even more organized and actually get pictures of all the beers. Probably not, but I will try!