Have a great day - eat something healthy.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The End is Near!!!

Okay, I'm not the crazy old dude who said it was all gonna come crashing down last weekend, but the Engine 2 Diet Challenge is coming to a close. Actually, it ends on Sunday but I won't be posting over the weekend because.... c'mon, who's gonna read it?!!!

This was a crazy work month for me so I wasn't able to immerse myself in this program as much as I would have liked to, but that made the experience much more reality-based. Most of us don't have the luxury of stopping or modifying our lives just for the sake of losing a few pounds, cooking more or starting a fitness regimen - we just have to fit it in. So when you make that effort, you have to be determined to make it work. I was determined to succeed, so I gritted my teeth, dug in, and learned a few things along the way: 

1.) Labels will tell you everything you need to know. Calories, sodium, sugars, protein, carbs, ingredients - they're all there. But in this program, I learned to look deeper into the ingredient listing - particularly to look for oil. And it's incredible how oil is everywhere; just like sodium and sugar. Now when I read a label I can decipher even more about the food I'm about to purchase (or put back on the shelf) than I could a month ago. That means I can make better decisions about my nutrition.
2.) Cooking without oil is easier than I thought. A couple tablespoons of vegetable stock adds flavor and moisture in the same way oil does - it just burns off faster. So I keep extra stock readily available whenever I'm cooking, just to splash a little extra on when things get hot and dry.
3.) Plant-based meals can be quick, easy and tasty. This one I knew already. I've got a bazillion recipes right here that prove it. From now on, I'll start modifying them by replacing the oil with vegetable stock.
4.) A program like E2 is a great way to "try on" healthier eating habits.  Anybody can do anything for a month. Hell, most of us have spent a year or two in dead-end jobs or marriages - 28 days of healthy eating is nothing compared to that! And it's the perfect time to broaden your eating horizon. Even if you go back to eating fish or chicken or meat, if you'll probably find more than a few recipes that you'll want to incorporate into your regular mix. Every little bit helps. 
5.) The discipline it takes to do something like this translates into every aspect of life. That's one of the things I love most about being on a program like E2 - it gives me a clarity and focus that I can apply to other areas of my life. I'm more focused and effective at work. I'm not all gunked up with chemicals like sugar, sodium, and yadayadayada, so I'm not an emotional yo-yo. That means I can move through life's little crises without escalating them into dramatic events.   

Oh, yeah, and on top of all the learning moments, I lost those nasty pounds from I gained in April so I'm back to fighting weight

Thanks, everyone, for sharing this adventure with me. It's always more fun to do these things with a buddy - and if you're reading this I consider you my buddy. Have a wonderful Memorial Day Weekend! See you next time!  

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Happy Hour Tofu and Peanut Sauce

One of my favorite happy hour treats is the fried tofu with peanut sauce I always order when I'm at Roat Osha, a Thai restaurant in Minneapolis that's second to none. I know it's loaded with fat and I know I shouldn't eat much fried food, but it's a guilty pleasure that I would be hard-pressed to give up entirely.

But guess what? The Engine 2 Diet has a recipe for broiled tofu and I'm happy to report that it delivers the same chewy, crispy goodness I love about fried tofu. 

And the peanut sauce? Believe it or not, you've got to watch this stuff because it often contains fish sauce. So I snooped around for a recipe for vegan peanut sauce and found a few that looked promising. I combined the best of all of them and came up with a pretty tasty version of my own. In fact, it tastes almost like the restaurant version. It's got heat (hot sesame oil), sweet (coconut milk, shredded coconut, and agave), and lots of peanutty goodness.

Okay, I understand that tofu has a lot of fat; so does peanut sauce. And even in their healthier forms I've got to watch how much of this stuff I eat. But as an occasional treat that's almost as good as the restaurant version that inspired it, I'm going to keep this  easy-to-make dish around for those times when I'm after a guilty pleasure - now I just won't have to feel as guilty! Woo hoo! 

Vegan Thai Peanut Sauce

Ooh, I love having this little gem in my repertoire! And I encourage you to play with the proportions - more heat, more sweet, more coconutty chew - just tweak it until it becomes your own. I use this as a dip for broiled tofu, but you could toss it with some sturdy rice noodles, use it as a dip for a chicken or shrimp satay, or just eat it off the spoon... or any other lickable surface!

Vegan Thai Peanut Sauce
¾ C creamy peanut butter
¼ C lite coconut milk
1 ½ T water
1 ½ T lime juice
1 ½ T low-sodium soy or tamari sauce
½ T minced fresh ginger
1 - 2 cloves garlic, minced

1-3 T shredded coconut
1-3 T agave nectar
½ T hot sauce (I use hot sesame oil to complement the peanut flavor)
2-3 T chopped raw organic peanuts
2 T chopped fresh cilantro

In a food processor or blender, mix the peanut butter, coconut milk, water, lime juice, soy, ginger and garlic to make a smooth, creamy paste. Add shredded coconut to desired texture; add agave and hot sauce to desired taste. Mix in cilantro just before serving and top with chopped peanuts.

E2 Broiled Tofu

I love this recipe because it yields crispy, chewy tofu nuggets that taste just like deep-fried tofu - the only difference is these ones aren't nearly as fattening! On top of that, this recipe is easy to make and takes very little time.

E2 Broiled Tofu

2 lb. extra firm organic tofu (be sure to get organic so the soy isn't GMO)
2 T Bragg's Amino Acids

Preheat oven to broil. Drain the tofu and cut into 1-inch cubes. Spray or drizzle cubes with Bragg's Amino Acids. Broil cubes on a sprayed baking sheet for 20 minutes, turning once, until browned on both sides. 

From "The Engine 2 Diet."

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

And the Winner is...

Congratulations to 'Juttaolli' - you have won your own copy of The Engine 2 Diet!

Juttaolli, yesterday I sent you a message requesting your contact information. Please respond via email or by posting a comment here at SkinnyPlus letting me know how to get in touch. If I haven't heard from you by then end of this week, I'll assume you don't want the book and will draw another name.

Congratulations again!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Worst Pad Thai in the History of the World!

E2 Vegan Pad Thai - a recipe for disaster
 Okay, I'm pretty enthusiastic and upbeat about making changes to my cooking repertoire in the name of good health. And last night I was excited to try the recipe for Vegan Pad Thai from "The Engine 2 Diet." But I've gotta be honest - it turned out to be one of my greatest disappointments - ever - in the kitchen

I'm a good cook. And I followed the recipe verbatim. But this dish turned out like a big bowl of ass! However, I did learn a few things as things in the kitchen unraveled: 

1.) If you're cooking with vegetable stock instead of oil, keep extra stock on hand to splash on when the pan dries out, which is inevitable.  
2.) DO NOT add dry spices at the end of preparation! Dry spices need something to bind to; something to help blend their flavor with the other ingredients. Typically stovetop dishes start with onion, garlic or both - that's the time to add dry spices. This recipe called for dry chili powder to be added at the end of the cooking process so it never got the chance to blend with anything. Instead, it just sat there on top of the noodles, broccoli and tofu. And it just plain sucked. 
3.) If a recipe calls for noodles, cook them first, then add them at the last minute. This recipe said to add cooked rice noodles early in the process. But when you're cooking without oil and the pan keeps drying out, adding noodles early on can only result in a mushy stuck-to-the-bottom-of-the-pan disaster. And that's exactly what happened. If I had followed my instinct and waited until the last minute to toss the noodles in, one problem with this recipe might have been avoided.
4.) If you know better, DO better! knew better than to add the chili powder late and the noodles early, but the recipe told me to - so I did. That's why I ended up wasting a lot good food that could have been put to better use. So from now on, I'm going to make my own decisions about what to do with steps that seem questionable.
5.) KEEP TRYING! This recipe totally sucked wind but it might work with the tweaks I've mentioned here. And there are other Vegan Pad Thai recipes out there - I've already collected a few. Once I clean out my pans I'll give them a try.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Healthy Hummus in a Hurry

I love this quick, easy recipe for Healthy Homemade Hummus! It's not your typical hummus - there's no oil or tahini - but it's loaded with flavor and has a great texture. I added spinach to the basic E2 recipe for extra nutrients; you can add your own touches like cilantro, jalapeno, roasted red peppers, Kalamata olives, cooked eggplant, or fresh mint.  

I timed this recipe and it only took 6 minutes from empty counter to full plate. And for me, that settles it - when a dish is this easy, tasty and healthy it definitely earns a place in the regular rotation! 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

E2 Healthy Homemade Hummus

This is not your average hummus - there's no tahini or olive oil - so it's not going to be as thick and rich as standard hummus recipes. But it's tasty in its own right and after a few bites it tastes like the "real thing." Mark and I have used this recipe again and again, adding spinach to give it a little extra nutritional value. And in our book, it's a keeper!

Healthy Homemade Hummus
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 cloves garlic (I use three very large cloves)
2-3 T lemon juice (I use two)
1 t Bragg's Amino Acids or low-sodium tamari (I use Bragg's)
3 T water or vegetable broth (I use broth)

Blend all the ingredients into a thick paste, using a small amount of water as neceesary to achieve desired consistency.

Customize by adding one or more of the following:
2 T toasted sesame seeds
1 fresh jalapeno, seeded and chopped
1 roasted, seeded and chopped red bell pepper
1 C Kalamata olives
1 bunch fresh mint
1 C fresh spinach
1 C cooked eggplant

From "The Engine 2 Diet"

Friday, May 20, 2011

Win a Free Copy of "The Engine 2 Diet"

I'm giving away a copy of "The Engine 2 Diet".  This book is a complete diet and fitness program - it tells you what to keep in your pantry, fridge and freezer; it tells you what kitchen implements and utensils you need; it has recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, salads, condiments and desserts; it has an eating plan that tells you what to eat and when; and it has an illustrated workout program that tells you what type of exercise to do each day. It's like having your own personal chef and personal trainer!   

Here's how to win:
1.) Scroll to the bottom of this page;
2.) Click "Follow" to become a follower of SkinnyPlus;
3.) Sit back, cross your fingers;
4.) Wait 'til Tuesday when I announce the winner.

Today I'm hitting the kitchen again so look for more food reviews and recipes on Monday! Have a great weekend!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

An Answer from the Author - Rip Esselstyn Speaks About Meat Substitutes

Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting Rip Esselstyn, author of "The Engine 2 Diet" at his book signing at Whole Foods - Minneapolis. First, let me say that up close, this guy looks HEALTHY! Of course, he's lean and in great shape, but he's also got beautiful skin and eyes that are crystal clear and intensely alert - only the shock of white hair on his head hints at his 49 years. Other than that, he's one of those rare people who looks truly alive.

I told Rip I was concerned with meat substitutes, explaining that I didn't understand why, if the diet calls for eliminating processed foods, meat substitutes, which are indeed processed, were acceptible. Then I told him I was conflicted about supporting an unethical company like Boca, which is under the Kraft umbrella (both Boca and Kraft are named corporate villains by The Better World Shopping Guide based on factors like human rights, the environment, animal protection, community involvement and social justice). And finally, I said was concerned about eating products with GMOs

Here's what he had to say: "I see those meat substitutes as bridges to get you over to the other side. So you use those meat substitutes to get over, and then you start making your own veggie burgers like the ones in the book. Basically the three types of protein I use are tofu, tempeh and seitan. "

So, in essence, meat substitutes are the lesser of two evils. For anyone who's considering adding a Meatless Monday to your nutritional repertoire, meat substitutes can really help with that transition. But in the long run, you're better served to make your own veggie burgers and meat dishes using tofu, tempeh and seitan. Or at the very least, buy organic products and support ethical companies.

If you're interested in learning more about conscientious consumerism, take a look at The Better World Shopping Guide. It's a pocket-sized handbook that has ratings of all sorts of products - from food to clothing to cleaning supplies to medical products - that are ranked according to the factors I listed above.

Thanks to Rip for a great chat, and to Whole Foods - Minneapolis Whole Foods for putting on a great event!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Ten-minute Tacos!!!

Last night I made tacos for dinner - a perfect follow-up to Monday's rice and beans. I already had green onions, red onions, green peppers, cilantro and salsa left over from the night before, so all the prep work was done - all I had to do was cook up some taco "meat." Typically I crumble up some firm tofu and sauté it with some onion, garlic and seasonings, but this time I decided to try the Boca Meatless Ground Crumbles that are allowed on this diet. I mixed up some Taco Seasoning for the crumbles and, because I was in the middle of another project, Mark took over and pulled dinner together. I know, he's amazing!   

Mark heated up some corn tortillas, pulled out the cut up veggies from the fridge and dinner was ready in 10 minutes. And the result? Darned tasty tacos! Mark usually has ground turkey but said he'd be happy to eat this meat-free version from time to time. And I found it to be a nice change of pace from the tofu I usually make.

One note:  The next time I make this dish, I'm going to try to find an organic meat substitute to ensure that there are no genetically modified organisms in it. Most likely, the Boca meat crumbles have GMOs (if the label does NOT say "organic" and there's soy in the product, there's a very good chance it contains GMOs). Once I find that product, I'll let you know what it is.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Taco Seasoning

This is the seasoning mix I use for Mark's ground turkey tacos. It works beautifully with a crumbled meat substitute and both Mark and I found our meat-free tacos to be tasty and satisfying.

Taco Seasoning
1 T chili powder
2 t onion powder
1 t ground cumin
1 t garlic powder
1 t paprika (I like smoked Spanish paprika)
1 t oregano

Mix all ingredients into a small bowl. Heat a large pan and dust it with cooking spray. Sauté meat substitute and sprinkle in seasoning mix. Stir until thoroughly mixed, and meat substitute is cooked through.

Beans & Rice Even Meat-Eaters will Love!

E2 Beans & Rice
Woo hoo! We're on Week 3 of the E2 Diet, which means we're elimina-
ting oil from our food mix. This was the part I was dreading - I couldn't imagine how I'd make anything without oil. But yesterday's first effort was a bona fide winner -  E2 Black Beans and Brown Rice.  

I know it sounds dull, but using vegetable broth and Bragg's Amino Acids for both the beans and the rice gave them a rich, nutty flavor. I defrosted some frozen corn, cut up some green pepper, green onion, cilantro and tomato and set them out like a taco bar so we could add ingredients to our liking. Then I made my own recipe - Easy Fresh Homemade Salsa to top it off. 

It was love at first bite! Both Mark and I were surprised at how fresh and satisfying this dish was. It struck a perfect balance - rich, hearty rice and beans complementing light, fresh veggies. I never expected such a humble dish to be so tasty! 

Maybe the best part was that this dish didn't require much work at all. Making the rice and beans was just a matter of checking them on the stove every once in a while. The most labor-intensive part was chopping up the veggies, which took all of 15 minutes, if that.

Two forks up for this recipe - it's a delicious way to go meat- and oil-free! This one's going into our regular repertoire right away! 

E2 Black Beans and Rice

This dish is simple, yet satisfying. The heft of the rice and beans is balanced out by the clean, fresh flavors of the vegetables. Even my husband, a dyed-in-the-wool carnivore, gobbled this up. This one is going into regular rotation in my household!

E2 Black Beans and Rice

2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 – 1 ½ C water or vegetable stock
1 T Bragg’s Liquid Aminos
1 t chili powder
2 – 3 tomatoes, chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 can water chestnuts, drained
1 C corn fresh, frozen or canned
Red, yellow, or green bell peppers, seeded and chopped
1 bunch cilantro, rinsed and chopped
1 avocado, peeled and sliced
3 C cooked E2 Brown Rice
Heat the beans with water or stock, Bragg’s and chili powder. Place the chopped vegetables and cilantro in individual bowls. To serve, place several big spoonfuls of brown rice onto large plates and ladle beans on top. Add generous handfuls of chopped vegetables, cilantro, and avocado on top of the beans. Add salsa or tamari to taste.

Serves 3 – 4

From “The Engine 2 Diet”

E2 Brown Rice

It’s amazing how much flavor vegetable stock and Bragg’s Amino Acids can add to rice. I don’t think I’ll make rice any other way, now that I have this recipe.

E2 Brown Rice

2 C uncooked short- or long-grain brown rice
3 ¾ C hot water or vegetable stock (I use stock)
2 T Bragg’s Liquid Aminos

Sauté the rice in a large skillet on high heat for 5 minutes, stirring constantly until the rice begins to brown and pop. Add the water or vegetable stock and Bragg Liquid Aminos.

Reduce heat to medium, and cook uncovered for 25 minutes or until the liquid has been absorbed and only a few bubbles of water show between the grains of rice. Turn off heat, cover, and let the rice sit on a warm stove for 10 minutes.

If the rice has achieved the desired consistency, but some liquid remains, cook on high uncovered until the liquid is gone. If the liquid has been absorbed but some rice sticks to the bottom of the pan, add 1/8 cup hot water, cover, and let sit for 5 minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork, and leave uncovered until ready to serve. Allow the rice to cool completely before refrigerating.

Makes about 5 ½ cups

From “The Engine 2 Diet”

Friday, May 13, 2011

Enter To Win Free Movie Tickets!

I've got two pairs of tickets to give away for the premiere of Forks Over Knives in Minneapolis. The event will take place at
7:00 pm Wednesday, May 18th at the Lagoon Cinema in Uptown. It should be a great evening - the movie is called "life-changing," and after the show there will be a panel discussion featuring Rip Esselstyn, author of The Engine 2 Diet

You can register right here to win your pair of tickets. Simply become a follower of SkinnyPlus (scroll down to the bottom of this page and click "follow", then sign in with Google, Twitter or Yahoo. If you don't have a Google account you can create one just by clicking the link on the bottom of the page). Only followers of SkinnyPlus can win. Winners will be announced on Monday. Stay tuned!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Do Calories Count?

I've got another problem with the E2 diet - I can't find a single mention of calories in the book. There are all sorts of recipes and a prescribed eating plan, but one size does not fit all. And if weight loss is one of its aims, shouldn't we have an idea of how much we should be eating?

I know for a fact that if I eat as much as my husband - oh, yes I can - it lands differently in and on my body. So I can't eat what Mark does, unless I want to end up in his weight class... not a goal of mine at the moment!

The E2 diet is named after the firehouse where Rip Esselstyn, the author, works. He's a big guy - a former competitive athlete - and he tested this diet on the men in the firehouse (yes, there were some women in various test groups, but there's no mention of how much they ate compared to the men). I'm a pipsqueak compared to these guys - what are we little people supposed to eat?

Since I can't find my answer in the book, I'm using the Livestrong web site's My Plate feature, which allows you to set calorie limits based on your weight loss goals, and then track your daily intake. I love this tool because it breaks out how much protein, fat, carbs, fiber, sugars and sodium you've consumed so you can adjust your eating to get more optimal nutrition.

My caloric goal is around 1200 calories per day - less on the days when I'm not working out. I know that sounds low, but I'm pretty small to begin with and I'm 51 years old so my caloric needs are diminishing (boy, does that suck!). 

I'm the kind of person who needs to set limits for herself - that's what works the best for me. And E2's plant-based diet is fantastic - but I just don't understand how a plan that works for a 200-lb. guy is going to work for a 120-lb. woman. I guess I have to figure this one out on my own.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What the FOK???

One of the reasons I'm doing doing the E2 Diet with Whole Foods is to bring awareness to the release of the movie "Forks Over Knives".  In the next few days I'll be doing some giveaways in conjunction with the movie - stay tuned for details. For now, I'm going to let the FOK website tell you what it's about... 

"What has happened to us? Despite the most advanced medical technology in the world, we are sicker than ever by nearly every measure.

"Two out of every three of us are overweight. Cases of diabetes are exploding, especially amongst our younger population. About half of us are taking at least one prescription drug. Major medical operations have become routine, helping to drive health care costs to astronomical levels. Heart disease, cancer and stroke are the country’s three leading causes of death, even though billions are spent each year to “battle” these very conditions. Millions suffer from a host of other degenerative diseases.

"Could it be there’s a single solution to all of these problems? A solution so comprehensive but so utterly straightforward, that it’s mind-boggling that more of us haven’t taken it seriously?

"Forks Over Knives" examines the profound claim that most, if not all, of the so-called “diseases of affluence” that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed by rejecting our present menu of animal-based and processed foods."

 The movie premiered last night in Chicago and will be premiering in Minneapolis on Wednesday, May 18th at the Lagoon Cinema. I can't wait to see it! You can see the trailer on the link above or right here

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Seeking Balance When There's None to Be Found

Okay, it's Week 2 and I wanted to get into the kitchen to try out some recipes, but work is so busy that I didn't even have time to celebrate my birthday yesterday. In fact, if you must know, it's 9:30 pm on the night of my birthday and I'm taking time off from my other writing assignments to make this post. And if I can't make time for my own damned birthday, there's not going to be any time for cooking either. 

So here's the straight dope -

I'm hanging on by a thread right now. I'm under some impossible deadlines and I don't know if I'm going to hit them. I'm stressed. And disconnected from every other part of my life. I haven't worked out since Thursday (unless you count a 10-mile bike ride on Sunday). And I'm thinking pretty hard about doing some big time emotional eating.

After rivaling Jabba the Hut throughout the month of April, my goal with this diet was to bring balance into my life. Instead of binging on forbidden foods before and after periods of healthful eating I wanted to level things off; to eat better on a regular basis. Don't get me wrong - for the most part I'm pretty darned healthy but there are those moments (or months) when I run myself right into the ditch. So I was looking at this diet as a vehicle to help me work through the reasons that drive me to destructive eating patterns. And I was hoping to use this time to bring balance into the other parts of my life as well - to be sure I was exercising regularly and not excessively (which I have a tendency to do); and to be sure I had some time to enjoy life. Well, not this week - there's no balance to be found.

But in spite of my challenges here's what I am doing - I'm staying on the diet, eating Morningstar Turk'y Grillers (only because they're quick, convenient, and approved by E2 - I'm still really conflicted about eating processed and potentially GMO even though E2 says they're okay), raw carrots, cauliflower, celery, apples, oatmeal and cashews. And I'm bored out of my skull with these foods, but they're the best I can do at the moment. So I'm staying with it, minute-to-minute at times, but I'm still here and I'm hanging in.

And I guess that today's lesson is that even while we crave balance in life - and we are well-served to strive for it - it can't always be achieved. And in those moments when we're completely out of balance, we have the choice to stay on our path or to veer off into the quicksand of comfort - better known as self-pity - which usually masquerades as self-abuse in the form of overeating, drinking or drugging.

Just because I'm a little busy doesn't mean I have to go off the deep end and do something I'll regret. Busy is a part of life. So is healthy. And the two can - and should - peacefully coexist. So that's my focus - get the work done, and to stay healthy. And return to center when things calm down a bit. The treadmill will be waiting for me as soon I'm ready, even if I only have 20 minutes to spare. The kitchen will be a welcome change from being chained to this desk. And these few crazy days will become a distant memory in short order.

So I'm making the choice to stay with E2, to keep my head on straight, and to go the distance. This insanity is temporary. And I'm not going to let it derail me. I may not have balance right now, but at least I'm tipping the scales in my direction! 

Monday, May 9, 2011

Dining Out on E2

On Friday night Mark and I went to a birthday dinner for our dear friend David at
Osteria I Nonni, a beautiful Italian restaurant in the Twin Cities. It was a special affair in the private dining room and David's wife, Dede, one of the greatest hostesses in modern history, had sent out the invitations long ago. 
Knowing that I'd be doing the E2 diet at the time of the party, I checked the restaurant's
online menu to get an idea of the types of food they served - typcially you can count on seeing meat, cream or cheese in just about every Italian dish so it's worth it to look before you leap. I Nonni's selections looked amazing, but there wasn't much that I could order without asking the chef to deconstruct and reconstruct his recipes, and I know how chefs love it when people tell them how to cook their food! 
So rather than blindsiding the chef on the night of the party, I contacted Dede and asked her if it would be okay if I called the restaurant in advance to request a vegan meal. She gave me the name of the manager (Tony) and I gave him a call. I told Tony my dietary limitations and he came up with some great ideas for my meal. 

While I would have preferred to have had foods prepared without oil, to request that would have been like tying both hands behind the chef's back. And if I ask a restaurant to work with my dietary limitations, I'd better be ready to work with the restaurant as well. Besides, I'm still in Week 1 so oil isn't verbotten yet. 
Each of the three courses of my meal were bursting with color and garnered a good deal of envious gasps and sighs from the people seated around me. By the time my dessert (a bowl of fresh fruit colorful enough to rival a Key West sunset) arrived, I heard one guest whisper to another, "How did she get that?" I'm sure I heard a hint of jealously in her voice. So here's what I had:  
Cocktail: A mix of cranberry juice with seltzer, served up in a martini glass with a twist. The only trouble with this drink is it's so good you'll find yourself ordering one after the other - guests who see you slamming these Cosmo imposters might get the wrong idea...

Salad: Mixed greens topped with crisped onion shavings - no dressing. And it was fresh and flavorful enough just the way it was - I loved every bite.

Entree: A plated mounded with grilled yellow and green peppers, grilled hot red peppers (just enough to add some zing - I loved them!), and grilled avocado. I've never seen grilled avocado before, but it's something I'll definitely have having more of in the future! Spectacular!

Dessert: A generous bowl of fresh grapefruit, orange slices and diced watermelon mixed with fresh mint leaves. Utterly delicious, refreshing and sweet-tooth-satisfying! 

Even if you're not eating a conventional diet, dining out can still be a wonderful experience. And if you're voluntarily following a nutritional program, you don't have to be rigid about it at all times. One meal isn't going to make or break a month-long program. But with a little planning and flexibility you can have an incredible meal that fits into your diet - one that your dining companions will covet! 

 Thanks to David and Dede for a superb evening; Happy Birthday to David; and thank you, Osteria I Nonni, for being so graciously accommodating!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Protein? Processed Foods? Perplexing!

I've gotta admit - I'm a bit confused by this diet. On the one hand, it calls for eliminating processed foods. But on the other hand it recommends foods like Boca Burgers, and other meat substitutes. I've got a couple of problems with this:
1.) Aren't meat substitutes processed? They sure don't come out of the ground that way.
2.) These meat substitutes are super high in sodium - one Morning Star Turk'y Griller has 390 mg of sodium and a Boca Burger has 280. 
3.) Some of the E2-approved meat substitutes - Yves, Morning Star, Boca, Litelife, and Fantastic Foods - are not labeled "organic." That could mean that the soy or wheat they're using is genetically modified. I'm not going to get into the perils of GMO foods right now, but they're something I want to avoid at all costs.

So what do you do? Well, I've got tofu in the fridge and I've got some great hemp protein powder that I can use for smoothies. But I don't have to panic because apparently we don't have to be so crazed about protein after all. Check it out:

According to E2, you can get enough protein eating a plant-based diet. In fact, "Not only will you get all the protein you need, for the first time in your life you won't suffer from an excess of it. Ample amounts of protein are thriving in whole, natural plant-based foods. For example, spinach is 51 percent protein; mushrooms, 35 percent; beans, 26 percent; oatmeal, 16 percent; whole wheat pasta, 15 percent; corn, 12 percent; and potatoes, 11 percent.  

"According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the average 150-pound male requires only 22.5 grams of protein daily based on a 2,000 calorie a day diet, which means about 4.5 percent of calories should come from protein. ...Most Americans, however, are taking in 20 percent or more.

So I'm not going to sweat it. I'm going to have an occasional Turk'y Griller if I'm having a protein "emergency," but I'm going to stay away from them as much as possible. And I'm not going to worry so much about going protein-heavy on my diet. Instead I'm going to concentrate on eating nutritional, organic, healthy foods as close to their natural state as possible and trust that I'm getting the fiber, protein, carbs and nutrients I need. Sure, I'll do some research to make sure I'm getting all the necessary vitamins and minerals, but for now I'm just gonna go with the flow. 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Grab 'n Go - When it's too Crazy to Cook

This week is crazy for me. I've got deadlines up the wazoo, I'm getting more assignments daily (no complaints about that!), and I'm trying to fit my workouts into to daily life while keeping my home and social lives going. So I've been eating the easy stuff - baked tofu sandwiches with avocado and substituting lettuce for bread (I do that all the time), oatmeal with stevia and cinnamon, apples, carrots, strawberries and nuts. I plan on hitting the kitchen next week but it's just not in the cards right now.

Tuesday night I popped into Whole Foods for a few staples and was excited when Lauren, the marketing and community relations specialist at Whole Foods,  pointed out an array of grab 'n go foods that are perfectly suited for a healthy diet, particularly the Engine 2. I've never even looked at the prepared foods case before because I'm typically not one to buy anything that I can make to my own specifications at home. But there are times - like this week - when I just don't have the time to pull something together and carrots or oatmeal are not enough. I tried a few items and was pleasantly surprised with how satisfying they were. Now I know that I can get something healthy in a pinch. Who says you can't be healthy on the go?!! Thanks to Lauren, for turning me on to a great game changer!

Check out these two items -

Black Bean Shaker: A 12-oz. layered salad with black beans, red onions, corn, red peppers, green  peppers, jicama, roma tomato, cilantro, and oil-free avocado dressing (avocado, tofu, lime jice, mint, cilantro, jalapeno pepper, sea salt, date syrup made with dates, water and lime).

This was a little clumsy. Well, I was a little clumsy. I found the container hard to open and once I got it open, I added the dressing before I shook up the salad - probably not a smart move since the dressing was quite thick. Next time I'll add the dressing after I shake the salad, dabbing it on individual bites. All in all, this has a nice, fresh flavor and is quite satisfying. And it's something you can feel completely great about eating.   

Aztec Quinoa & Black Bean Chili Soup: A 24-oz container of soup made with quinoa, celery, carrots, yellow onions, tomato, black beans, roasted poblano, cilantro, cumin, chipotle pepper, sea salt, oregano, sherry wine, garlic, water, roasted corn, lime juice, and cornmeal.

I found this soup to be a little on the bland side, in spite of its impressive list of ingredients. But I'm the kind of girl who uses 6 cloves of garlic when a recipe calls for 2 and extra curry and chili powder to spice up Indian and Mexican dishes. I've also given up salt recently so my taste buds are still adjusting. I'm going to try it again in about 2 weeks, after my palate has adjusted to the E2 diet and life without salt! 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

So What is the Engine 2 Diet, Anyway?

There are two ways to do The Engine 2 Diet:

The Fire Cadet program, which eliminates foods gradually each week:

Week 1 - Dairy and Processed Foods

Week 2 - Dairy, Processed Foods,
                    Meat and Eggs

Week 3 - Dairy, Processed Foods,
                    Meat, Eggs and Oil

Week 4 - All of the above

Or the Firefighter program, which eliminates all the foods listed above for the entire 28-day period. 

Giving up alcohol and caffeine is suggested, and participants are advised to watch their sodium and sugar intake very closely.

Along with the eating program, there's a no-excuses strength training routine that doesn't require any equipment except a chair, and your choice of cardio training. Each week calls for 2 days of strength training and 3 of cardio.

So why do it?
Losing weight isn’t always a healthy prospect but this plan has medical proof behind it. On top of that, it’s a plant-based program and I’m all for that. Most importantly, this is about finding a way to eat healthy, tasty food without spending my life in the kitchen. And it’s about getting fit without spending all my precious spare time in the gym. I'm looking to the Engine 2 Diet to help me blend healthy habits into my day-to-day life.

Let's see some proof
The Engine 2 Diet is Rip Esselstyn's plant-based eating and exercise program that's based on his father, Caldwell Esselstyn Jr., MD's research. Dr. Esselstyn researched patients with serious heart disease from the Cleveland Clinic's cardiology department, working with 18 people who had incurred 49 coronary events over the previous eight years. He placed them on a plant-based eating plan very similar to Engine 2. After 12 years all but one patient suffered no further cornary events, and the one who did had strayed from the prescribed diet. On top of that, their overall cholesterol dropped below 150 mg/dl (heart disease is exceedingly rare among people with total cholesterol levels under 150).

John McDougal, MD has been treating people with a variety of illnesses with the plant-based diet recommended in E2 and he and other physicians have cured most Type 2 diabetics and, in many cases, have greatly reduced insulin needs even for Type 1 patients. Dr. Esselstyn himself reverses and even cures advanced heart disease with this diet.1

Rip, a firefigher at a firehouse known as Engine 2 in Austin, Texas, decided to put the plant-based diet to the test with his co-workers and volunteers from around the Austin area. For 28 days the participants ate a plant-based diet and in that short time got some incredible results. The group's overall average  cholesterol level went from 181 mg/dl to 142 mg/dl and they saw a total mean weight loss of 10 pounds. The average weight loss for men was 15 pounds; for women it was 8.5 pounds.

There's more evidence of the diet's success in the book, but for now this is enough for me. Let's see what happens!

1 The Engine 2 Diet intro by T. Colin Campbell, PhD

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

My Name Is Ivy, and I'm an Addict

Before starting this diet I went way over to the dark side. As I mentioned in my last post, I spent most of April overindulging in the South Pacific and failing to right myself once I returned to the Northern Hemisphere. But I figured I'd be starting the Engine 2 Diet soon enough so I decided to let myself go until the kickoff date.

And this past weekend was one hell of a last hurrah. Or horror... I ate as if I'd been cast as Renee Zelleweger's body double in the next installment of "Bridget Jones's Diary" and filming was starting Monday. I shoveled food into my mouth and drank with intent, cramming myself full of the things I'll be giving up over the coming weeks. Cheese, carbs, chocolate, wine.

And guess what? I took no pleasure in what I did. In fact, it make me feel like crap.

When I was a smoker I'd have an extra cigarette if I knew I wouldn't be able to have one for a while, regardless of whether I wanted it or not. I didn't enjoy it, but I was compelled to do it... just in case. This weekend I did the exact same thing with food. I ordered Pad Thai on Saturday and got a plate piled with enough food for four. Of course, I didn't eat it all at the restaurant, but by the end of the day the carryout box was empty and I was full - uncomfortably full. I could never be hungry enough to eat that much food - I just did it because I knew I wouldn't get the chance to have Pad Thai (because of the eggs) until June. On Sunday I ordered an omelet with cheese and devoured the whole thing. I rarely eat eggs, and I eat cheese only once in a while. But I was hell-bent on getting a cheesy omelet before I started down the dairy-free trail. I was full after about three bites, but that didn't stop me from cleaning my plate... just in case.

Just in case what?!!! All the eggs in the world would be eaten by the end of May? Just in case there's a cheese shortage in a few weeks? Just in case I'll go hungry during this diet? Just in case I'll feel deprived? Come on! The only issue worth addressing is deprivation and I've done 21-day cleanses a million times before - I know that feelings of deprivation are infrequent and short-lived. And character-building. So just in case what?
This weekend I behaved just like an addict who gets high on the way to rehab. In my book, that makes me an addict too. Anyone who's addicted to anything (drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, shopping, food) understands the convoluted logic we concoct to rationalize bad decisions. And we addicts are prone to preemptive behaviors driven by the belief that loading up on our substance of choice might help alleviate the deprivation we fear we'll experience once we're on the straight and narrow.   

But why am I afraid of feeling deprived? For almost four years I've prided myself on following a truly healthful diet. I've gone vegetarian; borderline vegan. I've all but eliminated sugar, salt and gluten from my diet. I'm caffeine free. And I have a couple of glasses of wine once a week. But even so, it's pretty obvious I've still got issues where food is concerned. And they reared their cheesy, carby, sugary heads this weekend.

So during this challenge I've got a new goal - to work through my relationship with the foods I felt compelled to overeat and discover why they still have such a strong pull on me. I hope I find some answers.