Thursday, July 31, 2008

Learning a lesson the hard way

Warning: Long post ahoy!

I’ve talked a lot about learning valuable life lessons lately, and recently an interesting discussion came up on the ObesityHelp forums that got me thinking. My blog focuses on the positive because that attitude is what motivates me to continue living this lifestyle. That said, there are some lessons I’ve had to learn in a very hard and negative way.

The discussion on OH I am referring to comes up quite frequently and usually begins with someone asking, “Why do we need to take all of these vitamin supplements after surgery?” or, “Do we have to do it for the rest of our lives?” The short answers are “Because you don’t absorb all the nutrients from your food anymore,” and “Yes.”

This is why:

I was not always committed to this lifestyle the way that I am now. Last year, at almost 3 years post-op, I’d stopped losing weight and assumed that my body was settled at 175 lbs. I looked pretty good and felt alright for the most part. I was a little bit tired some days, but chalked it up to being a college student who was stressed. I’d become complacent about taking my vitamins and since my labs had been alright at my last check-up, I thought I didn’t need them. I’d slacked on my eating habits too. I wasn’t gaining any weight either, so I didn’t focus so much on eating protein and vegetables first at meals.

One day in early March I went over to my university’s health center for an annual exam, and oddly enough the woman who did it happened to specialize in gastroenterology. After hearing about my surgery and successful weight loss, she noted that I was looking a little pale. She thought it would be best to get a check up on my labs, so she took some blood and I went on my merry way.

Within hours, she called me back and demanded that I come see her the next day. It wasn’t just one thing, either. Everything was shot. I had no thiamin, B-12, folic acid, zinc, or vitamin D. Worst of all was my iron. My hematocrit (the percentage of blood volume occupied by red blood cells) was 23% (a normal female’s is between 37-48%), and my iron level was 2 (normal is between 60-160, usually higher in males). She impressed upon me that low levels of B vitamins could do neurological damage, that I was suffering from malnutrition, and I needed treatment immediately.

It hit me all at once. No wonder I’d stopped losing weight, my body was holding on to anything it could get. Suddenly my exhaustion and difficulty concentrating all made sense. The next day, she wrote me prescriptions for some high-intensity supplements, started a course of B-12 injections, and referred me to a hematologist for the iron problem. I’d tried several different iron supplements in the past, but they’d all made me so ill I couldn’t eat.

The hematologist she referred me to was one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. He listened patiently while I told him my history with iron supplements and then suggested I try a course of iron infusions along with an iron rich diet. He explained that the infusions would take several hours because they first give a Benadryl drip to subdue any allergic reactions, a Zantac drip to help with the nausea, a small test-dose of the iron to be sure that the body won’t reject it, and then finish with the actual infusion. All in all, it would take 2-3 hours.

After my second infusion, I was picking up my purse and trying to shake off the drowsy feeling from the Benadryl when I realized that something wasn’t right. My lips felt funny. I looked at the nurse and said, “I think something’s wrong.” After that, the room started spinning and everything turned blurry. Within a minute, there were about 8 people in the room. One kept telling me to keep looking at him. I was going into anaphylactic shock, and I just kept mouthing “please help me.” My blood pressure bottomed and everything went black for a minute before one nurse injected epinephrine into my right arm while another injected an antihistamine into my left. When I could finally breathe again, I just kept thanking everyone. My whole body hurt, but at least I was alive. My hematologist appeared, apologizing for what I’d gone through, but said we’d work on another plan after I felt better. They kept me at the hospital overnight in case I relapsed, which thankfully, didn’t happen.

The infusions did get my hematocrit up to 30%, but with iron supplementing out of the question after such a severe allergic reaction, all I could depend on was me being responsible enough to commit to an extremely iron rich diet. I also had to learn to give myself B-12 injections once a month because the doctors noticed that it helped my iron level go up. I remembered the promise I’d made to myself after having the RNY, to never live an unhealthy lifestyle again. I’d screwed up, but I vowed to get back on track.

It took months for my blood work to start coming back with average levels of most things. My iron was always a little bit low, but not dangerously so. I was also able to lose weight again, since I wasn’t starved for nutrients. Unfortunately, what I did to my body did have some lingering effects. I have a little bit of trouble remembering things that I’ve said and it can be hard to concentrate sometimes. I am fortunate that I came out mostly unscathed, because from what I’ve seen vitamin deficiencies do to some dear friends on OH, what happened to me was mild.

The point of that story is not to make anyone afraid. It is to spread awareness and remind patients that it doesn’t matter if you’re 5, 10, or 20 years out—it’s always important to supplement properly and have regular blood work check-ups (I’m due for one in August).

A tool I have found that helps to give me an idea of my nutrient intake is a program from Fitday itself is a food diary website, but in their downloadable program, it is possible to create reports that show how much of certain nutrients and vitamins you’re getting from food. Of course, I remain aware that I’m not absorbing all of that, but it does give me an idea of where I might need to add an extra supplement.

Four years ago, I promised that I would never live an unhealthy lifestyle again. It shouldn’t have taken a bad scare to remind me of that, but it did. Sometimes we have to learn things the hard way.

I learned that 3-4 chewable vitamins, B-100 complex, and vitamin D, along with a (delicious) iron rich diet and a B-12 shot once a month makes me feel fantastic. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Flowers and Chocolate

What better way to begin a day than with some pretty flowers?

I hope you all had a lovely weekend. This past weekend, I was on a mission. It was a noble mission, and one that I undertook after careful consideration of the dangers and pitfalls. I had to rescue:

Yes, chocolate. An innocent victim thrust all too often into the grasp of high-fructose corn syrup and gobs of fat. Let me let you in on a little secret: Chocolate is so awesome that it doesn’t need either of those things to be good.

Determined to prove this, I was delighted when my package from arrived last week. In it were samples of Ultimate Protein in chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. Using the base directions from Shelly’s protein ice creams, I whisked together the following ingredients:

1 scoop chocolate protein powder
2 tbsp. sugar-free fat-free chocolate fudge pudding powder
1 cup 2% milk

My normal skepticism regarding protein powder was hanging around, but the bowl smelled so good I couldn’t help but try a taste. It was reminiscent of the chocolate milk from Turner’s dairy that my grade school cafeteria served. I began to think this one might even be tolerable as a drink! I flipped on the ice cream maker and wandered off to play video games with Joe.

25 minutes later, I could hear the churn slowing down and I knew that the mixture had firmed up. I got a plastic tub out and looked into the ice cream maker. But this was no ice cream! Shiny, dense, and rich in chocolate flavor, I had full blown gelato on my hands. I divided the batch into three small containers, but only two made it to the freezer to firm up (I wanted some soft serve).

Had I succeeded in rescuing chocolate? Here’s the verdict: Each serving contained 84 calories, 2 grams of fat, 4 grams of carbohydrates, and 10 grams of protein. A solid victory was achieved, and I think a large canister of Ultimate Protein is in my future…

But what if (unlike me), you don’t have protein powder hanging around? I know it’s not on most people’s shopping list, so I sought to make a healthy chocolate ice cream using readily available ingredients. Granted, it didn’t end up packed with protein, but it did make a larger volume (better for crowds) and still tasted great.

In a blender (you can use a bowl and a whisk if you’re feeling macho), combine:

1.5 packages sugar-free fat-free chocolate fudge pudding powder
1 cup 2% milk
1 tbsp. cocoa powder
1 twelve ounce can non-fat evaporated milk
2 eggs
1 tbsp. vanilla extract

Blend until the mixture is smooth and lump free. Pour the whole batch into an ice cream maker and churn for 25-30 minutes. Remove to a large plastic storage container and set in the freezer to harden (or eat it if you’re impatient like me).

The recipe makes about a half-gallon (8 cups). Here are the nutrition facts based on serving size:

1 cup serving: 98 calories, 2 grams of fat, 14 grams of carbohydrates, 6 grams of protein, and 7 grams of sugar.
1/2 cup serving: 49 calories, 1 gram of fat, 7 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of protein, and 4 grams of sugar.

So, have your ice cream and eat it, too! Chocolate doesn’t need so many helpers around. It can most definitely stand on its own without adding a whole lot of extra sweeteners or fats.

NOTE: The above ice creams become very hard when frozen. This is completely normal. Allow them to stand for 5-10 minutes before serving and they will return to a scoop-able state. Enjoy!

My agenda for the week mostly depends on what packages arrive. I’ve ordered some other protein powder samples that should arrive this week, and I’ve also FINALLY managed to find my birthday present: A Wii-Fit! It took awhile, but sniping on Ebay paid off in the end. Other than that, it’ll be a mish-mash of what ever pops into my head, so stay tuned. Ciao for now!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Planning Principle (plus bonus cake!)

I call him the mouse that ran up the clock. He says good morning to all!

Yesterday, as I threw the last of my apple butter bars into my work bag it occurred to me that the evening ahead would call for copious amounts of baking in order to replenish my protein meal/snack supply.

After a fruitful trip to Harris Teeter, I was armed with the necessary ingredients and a few new things to experiment with. Dinner was first on the chopping block, and because I had plans for baking later I decided to keep it simple. Let me tell you, this is the best tortilla pizza yet. I’m calling it “Summer Pizza” because I honestly believe it’s at its prime when made with herbs and tomatoes picked straight from the garden.

I began by dicing up the first roma tomato from my vine and added fresh basil, fresh parsley, one diced baby bella mushroom, a teaspoon of olive oil, pinch of kosher salt, a grind of black pepper, dash of onion powder, and about a tablespoon and a half of my homemade marinara sauce. After mixing it all together, I let it sit on the counter for about 20 minutes to let all of the flavors come together. It smelled heavenly as I spooned it onto a multi-grain tortilla which I then topped with 1/4 cup of shredded part-skim mozzarella and a few small dollops of fat free ricotta. After ten minutes in a 425 degree oven, I was treated to one very delicious 200 calorie pizza. Yum!

Close-up for texture!

My plan for the evening was to make a batch of banana-nut protein muffins and a protein apple cake that I would cut into bars. While considering this, it reminded me of another important lesson that’s been drilled into me at this point: Plan Ahead.

When Joe and I had to stop in Breezewood for a bite to eat on our way to Pittsburgh (after being stuck in traffic all afternoon), we had a myriad of fast food options. While I don’t eat fast food very often, there is the occasional stop while traveling or night when I don’t feel like cooking or actively going out to dinner. I prepare myself by researching nutrition information on restaurant’s websites and making a list of the best options available. For instance, Wendy’s chili, or half of an oven roasted Twister wrap with no pepper-mayo from KFC. It’s surprising how well you can eat at most places if you simply plan ahead. If I’m invited to dinner somewhere that I can’t find something that fits my diet, I generally resolve to choose the healthiest option and eat only half of it. But I decide that in advance, because if I don’t then I continue eating because “it tastes good” and not because I’m hungry.

I apply the same planning principle to my everyday meals. I know how many calories I want to have during the workday and plan 2 meals and 2 snacks accordingly. My evening consists of another meal and snack with a total daily calorie count somewhere between 1,000-1,200 and a daily protein intake of 65-80 grams.

After doing some calculations, I knew that the banana-nut muffins would yield 8 decent sized muffins at 151 calories, 6 grams of fat, 12 grams of carbohydrates, and 8 grams of protein. They would be good for a filling snack. The apple cake would yield 6 bars at170 calories, 10 grams of fat, 15 grams of carbohydrates, and 10 grams of protein. Those would make a good breakfast or dessert treat with some protein ice cream.

The banana nut protein muffins were a delicious success (I just had one for a snack). You can find the original recipe at Shelly’s blog. The changes I made were to use a regular muffin tin, two tablespoons of SF caramel syrup and 1 tablespoon of SF vanilla syrup, replace one of the tablespoons of almond butter with a tablespoon of apple butter, and make a batch of 8 larger muffins (instead of 24 small ones). Because the muffins are larger, I also extended the cooking time to 18 minutes, or until the tops spring back when poked with a finger.

Then it was onto the apple cake. During my Harris Teeter excursion, I came across an apple type I hadn’t seen before, labeled as “Sweet Jazzy Apples.” Yes, yes it’s probably a marketing term for some apple I’ve already had, but I decided to give them a taste test anyway so I’d know if they’d make good applesauce for canning season in the fall. Anyway, you came here for apple cake, so here’s the recipe and method:

Neen’s Apple Cake Bars

1/4 cup almond flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup soy flour
1 scoop Nitro vanilla protein
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp spiced apple preserves (I use homemade—if you buy, try to find all fruit preserves)
1 tbsp SF caramel syrup
1/2 apple, sliced
2 tbsp almond butter
1 egg
2 tbsp no sugar added apple butter
1/2 graham cracker’s worth of crumbs

Set your oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk almond flour, half of the rolled oats, soy flour, half of the protein powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Add the syrup and preserves and mix until combined. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, beat the almond butter with the egg until smooth.

Combine the two mixtures and then add the other half of the protein powder and the other half of the oats. The batter will be very sticky, so oil whatever you’ll be using to spread it in the pan. I just spray my hands with non-stick spray.

Line a loaf pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper. If using aluminum foil, be sure to spray it with non-stick cooking spray. Spread the batter evenly in the pan and then top with apple slices. Spread the apple butter over the apple slices, creating an even glaze.

Bake the cake for 20 minutes and then sprinkle the graham cracker crumbs over the top. Bake 5 more minutes and then remove from the oven.

After the cake cools, remove it from the pan (this is where the parchment/foil really comes in handy) and cut into 6 bars.

Wrapped in plastic, they’ll keep on the counter for 4-5 days. For longer storage, keep them in the fridge for up to two weeks.

In light of what I’ve shared about planning ahead, here is my food plan for the day:

Breakfast: 3/4 Luna Chocolate Pecan Pie protein bar (it was very good—a bit sweet for my taste)
Morning snack: Banana nut protein muffin
Lunch: Deli turkey, fresh tomato, and a sprinkle of cheddar cheese wrapped in a large lettuce leaf.
Afternoon snack: Apple protein cake bar
Dinner: Thin cut loin pork chops, lightly breaded and sautéed hot and fast in olive oil.
Evening snack: NSA fudgesicle or a protein bar

I also plan to buy my books for school and beginning my research for the fantasy football draft (I've been slacking big-time).

If you have a plan or goal for anything today, (work, food, school, exercise…etc.) share it in the comments section! It’s worth giving some thought to, because sometimes a plan is the only motivation needed to get things done. Ciao for now, friends!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Next time, I'll give the travel gods a sacrifice...

What a weekend! Whew.

Getting out of D.C. on a Friday afternoon is like trying to escape an impending zombie invasion by driving toward the only bridge out of town. Needless to say, our trip to Pittsburgh started with five hours navigating traffic on I-270, I-70, and the PA Turnpike. PennDOT, in its infinite wisdom had I-70 closed down to one lane for absolutely no reason. There was no one working and the pavement was fine, yet they were too lazy to pick up the cones which therefore led to a huge bottleneck. It was not pleasant. A trip that normally takes me 3 and a half or 4 hours took 5 and a half instead. We got in around 9:30 and headed out for a bite and a beer with my parents and brother.

Saturday was, of course, the big day--my Grandma's 80th Birthday Party. We spent most of the day icing cupcakes, chopping vegetables, setting up the band, and running out for last minute things like ice, paper plates, and rolls for the pulled pork. After a quick dip in the pool, we all changed into our party clothes.

The guest of honor arrived in style wearing a beautiful black dress and a lovely corsage. Here she is with her daughter, granddaughters, and great-granddaughter. L to R: Sarah, Me, Aunt Armida, Grandma, Lily (the newest addition to the family), and Emily.

Soon, my parents’ backyard was full of family members chatting while an accordion played in the background. This was very clearly an Italian party (haha).

After a few words from my Aunt Armida, Rendezvous (my Aunt Regina’s band) began their set with my cousin John as their guest guitarist. He was in a state of nervous terror, but you’d never have known it by the way he played. He sounded great and my grandma was certainly beaming from her seat on the porch. My Aunt Armida had asked each of the grandchildren to do something special at the party. John played his guitar, Emily and Sarah gave short speeches, and my brother and did what we both do best (albeit verrrrrrrry differently). We sang. I was up first:

I joined the band on their rendition of K.T. Tunstall’s “Black Horse and a Cherry Tree.” As nervous as I felt beforehand, I just kind of blanked out and went with it. It was a blast to sing with a real band (something I don’t think I’ve ever done before outside of choir) and of course, my grandma really enjoyed it. Here she is smiling with her kids, my Aunt Armida and my Dad:

As soon as the Happy Birthday song ended, the kitchen was flooded with cookies (I think people in our family travel with cookie trays at all times), cupcakes, and copious amounts of fruit on skewers. This poor watermelon was impaled and sacrificed for the sake of aesthetics:

Then it was my brother Michael’s turn to be the center of attention. I should probably mention that he is a classically trained vocalist. Like I said, I’ve got the lounge act down, he can have the concert hall! My grandma was also trained when she was young, so she has a deep appreciation for opera. Michael sang two pieces by Tosti without breaking a sweat. All he needed was a swig of Corona in between songs (haha).

As the evening wound down and the crowd dwindled, I sat by the pool trying to make sure that Lily didn’t plunge in face first while she tried to catch the bubbles that the jets made. She reminds me of myself in the way that she “accidentally” slips into the water. She’s going to be quite the little fish. After finishing off the last of her sugar high (people were giving her cookies and fruit all day), she finally fell asleep in the living room. Joe and I gave my cousin Sarah a ride home and then sat on the porch with my brother, John and Katie until 1 am. After everyone went to bed, Joe and I sat out on the porch chatting. With how quiet it was, it was hard to believe that it had ever been remotely chaotic.

Alas, after a nice lunch with my folks and a couple rounds of Wii Bowling the next day, it was time to return to Virginia. For the first hour of our trip, everything went smoothly. Then this happened:

“What is this?” you ask? That, my friends is Joe and I standing at mile marker 131 on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. And yes, traffic is completely stopped. Supposedly, 9 miles ahead of us there was a huge accident that shut down BOTH sides of the highway. Fortunately, my family had sent us on our way with leftover pulled pork and chicken, and I had a bag full of protein bars. We had a picnic standing outside and then cleaned my car out of sheer boredom. Around 2 hours passed and suddenly we saw….cars!

Well, it took another 45 minutes before traffic started up in our direction, so I took some pictures of the sunset.

We finally got home around 12:30 and after inhaling a fudgesicle I crashed. Maybe we did something to tick off the travel gods or something, but this was the hardest time I’ve had getting to Pittsburgh and back. Still, it beats driving the 12 hours from Boston any day. All in all, it was a really fun weekend and I got to see everyone I wanted to see at once.

My boss was kind enough to let me go home an hour early on Monday after I told her about our debacle, so I got home early yesterday and the evening was very relaxing. Joe and I went to see “The Dark Knight” which I was so excited for I could barely sit still waiting for it to start. Since I really didn’t want any single frame spoiled for me, I won’t spoil it for anyone else. But it was undoubtedly brilliant.

There isn’t much on my agenda this week, which is absolutely fine by me. I ordered some samples of protein powder from a fellow WLS patient’s website to see if I can find a palatable chocolate flavor to use for ice cream. I’ve come to a revised conclusion regarding the NitroCore24. While my opinion of it still stands (quite highly, I might add), what I thought was a too-sweet taste from the sugar-free pudding mix I added to the last batch was actually from the powder itself. Others tasted it and didn’t notice, but that doesn’t surprise me. It’s very common for WLS patients to have a sensitivity to very sweet or very salty foods. So, while I will absolutely continue to use it for baking, I’m back to the drawing board for the ice cream. The search is on for something as creamy and smooth as the NitroCore, with just a hair less sweetness. Luckily, the website I ordered from offers sample packets of different kinds, which is nice when you don’t want to spend $35 for a tub of something that might be gross. If you’re interested in sampling bars or protein powders on your own, you can find them here.

Also, I hope to have formed some opinions on the rather bizarre trades going on in the NFL right now, and any other training camp news that might pop up.

I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend. Ciao for now!

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Search for Protein: Product Review

Protein powder and I have long been at odds. In my many kitchen experiments, it's been the one ingredient that I only add because it's good for me. For the past week or so, I'd been using Wegman's soy protein powder in vanilla flavor and a lot of my baked goods had been coming out dense. It was very frustrating. I consulted my friends on to learn what their favorite powders were and then headed to my local nutrition store to see what was in stock.

And there it was, shining like a beacon before me in a huge black canister that said NITRO CORE 24 on the side. It was Optimum Nutrition's new line of powders and I'd heard rumors of it's tastiness. Skeptically, I looked at the giant tub. The flavor was vanilla ice cream. It also comes in strawberry milkshake, ultimate chocolate, and extreme cookies and cream. What is extreme or ultimate about those flavors, I don't know. I will find out in the future.

What makes O.N.'s new product so interesting is that each 48g scoop contains 24 grams of a protein blend. Most powders on the market are either whey (isolated from cheese) or soy (isolated from soybeans). Not so with this particular product. The protein blend contains 3 different types of proteins which are balanced by the rate at which they are digested in the body. For instance, whey protein isolate is quickly digested, egg albumins and milk proteins are digested slightly slower, and at the end of the chain are casein proteins (accounting for 80% of the proteins in cheese and milk) which take a long time for the body to digest. This all translates into feeling fuller longer and a chance for better protein absorption (in the case of those who have malabsorption issues).

But really, none of this matters unless you can actually get the stuff down. Most of the complaints I have with protein powders are chalky or gritty texture, lack of flavor, and a particularly strong smell. Since GNC has a "return it if you hate it" policy, I ponied up the $34 for a canister containing about 30 scoops and brought it back to the lab (read: kitchen) for some tests.

Test #1: Apple Cinnamon Protein Cookie (derived from this delicious recipe)

My modifications included using only 1 heaping scoop (48g is a much larger scoop than many other brands) of protein powder, nixing the chocolate and nuts, adding chopped dried apples as the fruit, and replacing 1 tablespoon of the sugar free caramel syrup with 1 tablespoon of my homemade spiced apple preserves.

I knew that all I had to do was open that canister and I'd know whether I had something acceptable or not. Warily, I opened it and peeled back the quality seal. Oddly enough, I smelled...well, melted vanilla ice cream. Yes, there was a slight hint of that unflavored gelatin smell but all in all it was a pretty good smell. I added a heaping scoop to my batter, portioned out the cookies and waited by the oven. They came out smelling wonderfully, but I'd have to wait until the next day for a taste test.

Test #2: Cinnamon Cheesecake Ice Cream

I needed a test to determine whether this powder could deliver a smooth, creamy texture. Once again, borrowing my base recipe from my friend Shelly's blog here, I came up with the following:

1 1/4 scoops of Nitro Core Vanilla Ice Cream Protein Powder
1 tbsp. SF cheesecake pudding mix
A few shakes of cinnamon
1 cup 2% milk (do NOT use skim)
1 tbsp SF vanilla syrup (Torani is the brand I had on hand)

I tossed it in the ice cream maker and waited 30 minutes. What came out was still in the soft serve phase and would need a good 2-3 hours in the fridge to harden up, but it was worth tasting. And then there was ice cream. It was creamy, smooth, and decadent. I made a mental note that the SF pudding mix had made the batch slightly too sweet for me but that the protein had certainly done it's job.

Just The Facts, M'am: Assuming that a batch makes 3 servings, each serving has 107 calories, 4 grams of fat, 5 grams of carbohydrates, and a whopping 11 grams of protein. If you're a post-op in the "pureed foods" stage looking for more of a meal, consider dividing it into only 2 servings with each one having 160 calories, 6 grams of fat, 8 grams of carbs, and 16 grams of protein. The above recipe is pretty basic. Add fruit, nut butters, or different flavor syrups for some variety.

The next day at 3:00pm, I retrieved my recently baked protein cookie from my bag and took it down to tea. They always serve cookies at tea, so this one would need to be a really good cookie to distract me from those temptations. I took a bite and finally found the texture that my recent batches had lacked so horribly. It was chewy, soft, and had a taste similar to mulled apples. The caramel syrup and vanilla protein blended wonderfully to make a lovely background for this morsel of autumn.

Just The Facts, M'am: A batch yielding 9 cookies has 97 calories, 7 grams of fat, 9 grams of carbohydrates, and 7 grams of protein per cookie. A perfectly fine snack and while it clocks in under 100 calories, this is one that will stick with you.

So it seems that protein powder and I can finally be friends. With its mild, slightly sweetened vanilla flavor and creamy texture, Nitro Core 24 delivers quality protein that I actually want to eat. Many thanks to the folks at Obesity Help for their help in finding it!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Like a Beautiful Flower...

...Pre-season NFL drama is beginning to unfold. Here are some stories from the week.

Brett Favre

No one doubts that he is one of the greatest QBs to ever lead a team. He stuck with a team for 17 years, which is certainly rare in football anymore. After last season, he decided to retire. In March he said you had second thoughts, and now he wants to come back. But he doesn't want to just come back, he wants to be the starter. However, the team moved forward with a new gameplan following Brett's retirement and Aaron Rodgers took the helm. Now here comes Favre, telling the Packers organization to throw Rodgers back on the bench. They refuse and he asks to be released from his contract or traded so that he can play as a starter elsewhere. Messes like this are no good for team morale, especially a team with such drastic offseason changes to begin with. I can understand Favre wanting to be released, and personally I think the Packer's excuse of "we're just trying to protect his legacy" is a load of bull. It's obvious that it's in their best interest to keep Favre if he's reinstated because then they have a solid seasoned veteran behind Rodgers. It's Favre's decision what his legacy will be. While the Packers front office has said that they will definitely not release Favre from his contract, the possibility of a trade has been left open. Where to then? The Bears and Vikings could certainly use a solid QB, but what a slap in the face to the fans who supported him for so long.

Today, Favre said it would be tempting to show up at Green Bay's training camp and "call their bluff" just to see what would happen. To me, that seems rather juvenile for a 38 year old man. I understand Favre's side of it and I understand the Packers organization (with the exception of the "legacy" remark). Where it goes from here depends on who is willing to budge first.

Peyton Manning
All I can say is, "Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!" For the past three years, Manning has been my go-to guy in fantasy football drafts. You bet your bottom dollar that if he's on the board, I'll snag him the first chance I get. Why? Consistency. I could rely on Peyton to get me those few extra passing yard/passing touchdown points during weeks when my other players were lagging. But now, I face a conundrum. My iron man had surgery on Monday to remove an infected bursa sac in his left knee. The verdict? He's out 4-6 weeks, sure to miss the rest of training camp and possibly the pre-season. The hovering question in my mind is "Will he be sharp and ready for the regular season?" Here's the problem as I see it. Missing camp, scrimmages, and preseason games utterly executes the chances of developing new plays and rhythm with receivers and running backs. Manning, the king of the audible, calls most of his plays at the line, which makes that rhythm even more important. As they say, "practice makes perfect" and without enough practice to make it subconscious, Manning and the Colts could be in some serious trouble.

Now my own offseason becomes a little more dramatic in terms of draft-planning. Do I take the risk that Manning could come back full-strength and draft him early? Or do I get a different QB and perhaps Manning in a later round as a back-up (should he still be available) and then evaluate performance as it happens? It's all up in the air at this point. We never draft until mid-preseason. I personally think a July draft is foolish because you never know who might tweak something during training camp. Having time to see how players are meshing and producing during training camp affords me time to evaluate my own thoughts and biases. I'd love to post who I'm already keeping an eye on, but that would give my opponents insight that I don't think they need. I've got a new method in mind this year, and will report throughout the season on whether or not it is succeeding.

My last item of drama comes from the "Really? They're spending money on that?" department. The NFL has hired experts to study game footage to determine if players are flashing gang signs at the crowd as part of their on-field celebrations. Problem number one: What is a gang sign in one city is simply a sign for "ok" in another. Problem number two: players throw up hand signs that have meaning to them in several ways (i.e. college fraternaties, sign for their kids to see on TV) How on earth do you differentiate who is throwing up a gang sign and who simply used a hand sign to say hi to their kid? If the signs have different meaning in different places, it pretty much becomes a guessing game. Really, NFL? I'd be more focused on the ridiculous number of players who have committed serious crimes during the offseason and studying why this behavior is becoming more prevalent. It tarnishes your organization when someone representing it goes out and buys a bunch of drugs and then decides to use them while driving a car. I'm certainly not saying that the NFL is responsible for that behavior, but I think it would be of benefit to them to enforce a stricter code of conduct.

Of course there's the usual slew of players refusing to report to camp until contract disputes are resolved, but in my opinion that's less drama and more greed.

With the Olympics and pre-season football coming up next month, I'm sure there will be a lot more stories to report on, and this of course means more pictures of Michael Phelps. But just in case you can't wait that long, here's one for good measure:

Fun Fact: It takes 8,000-10,000 calories a day to fuel this man. Amazing.

Monday, July 14, 2008

An Island Birthday

I hope that picture alone is enough to show you why I didn't want to leave yesterday!

(Click on any of the pictures for a full size version)

On Friday, Joe and I (and Dioji too!) headed to beautiful Chincoteague Island, VA. I was treated with clear blue skies for my birthday and all weekend, which is quite a change from the weather we're having here in D.C. It's really nice during the day and then rains at night. I suppose that's good though, my plants certainly need it. Anyway, the trip took about 4 hours with a stop to have lunch and walk the dog. We arrived and almost immediately set out to walk into town. After being in the car, I think we all just wanted to stretch our legs.

The island is just picturesque. As we walked, we passed lots of little houses, shops, churches, and even the fairgrounds. Town was more lively, but the laidback atmosphere remained intact. Along the main drag are lots of restaurants (mostly seafood--yum!), some mini golf courses, places to rent scooters/bikes, and bait shops. After a couple hours wandering around, we decided to have my birthday dinner at a little place called Etta's Channel Side Restaurant. It looks out over the Assateague Channel, so we got to have dinner by the water. The food was quite tasty as well. I had broiled sea scallops and Joe had crab cakes. If you're going to eat seafood, you might as well have it in a place where it's bound to be fresh. It was so good! Then it was off to the beach to see the sunset...and be silly of course!

We ran around on the beach for awhile and then decided to head back to the house for some champagne and a late movie. It was amazing how quiet it was at night. The only real sounds were the occasional honking geese in the pond behind the house.

The next day it was off to play in town. First we drove over to the beach to see if we could get a permit to do a campfire. They were all taken unfortunately, but the ranger told us if it we had an enclosed fire (a grill, hibachi..etc.) we could use that anywhere on the beach. But the highlight of that particular trip was this:

Wild ponies! They were just grazing away in the sun, so we pulled over and stopped to take pictures. There were a couple of foals too, that looked all wobbly in the midst of the rest of the bunch. We also saw a couple of herons, but they were too far away to get any good pictures. Luckily, the visitors center had binoculars mounted on the rails so you could get a closer look. After hanging around to watch the animals for awhile, we headed back to town for some silly fun.

Here's me showing off my amazing mini-golf skills:

We both played horribly and concluded that the course was rigged (lol). The hot sun had baked us thoroughly and we decided it was time for a dip in the pool. I got to try out my new bathing suit and had a moment of giddiness because it was the first time in my adult life that I could actually pull off a two-piece suit.

We cooled off and then decided to rent one of these!

It was a little three-wheeled vehicle called a ScooterCoupe and boy was it fun to drive! We toured around and saw the whole island in it. It gave us a chance to check out what we might want to scope out later in the trip. Mostly, it was just really fun to ride around in though.

We planned to have a cookout on the beach that night and did find a small charcoal grill to use, but unfortunately we got bad charcoal that all the lighter fluid in the world couldn't get going. At first we thought it was the wind on the beach, so we tried to do it on the back deck of the house but to no avail. We did have flames long enough to toast some marshmallows, so it wasn't a total bust. Instead, we ended up broiling some quesadillas for dinner and decided to have a picnic the next day. Dioji said he was tired anyway:

Sunday, it was off to a little trailer down near the beach for some barbecue. Joe's parents told us this place was really good and they weren't kidding! The line was a little long, but we didn't mind because the smell of all the smoky meat was tantalizing.

We got pulled pork and baked beans and headed down to Main St. where we came across this:

How fortunate! Some tables in the shade right by the water. A perfect destination for our picnic lunch. We ate while we watched boats and enjoyed the breeze that lazed by. After some browsing on Main St. and another dip in the pool, it was time to go. While I really didn't want to leave, it had been a wonderful birthday weekend. The trip was relaxing and exciting all at once. The best part was that Joe said we could go back to the house any time, so it's nice to know that a little piece of paradise full of fresh sea air is only 3 1/2 hours away.

Thank you to everyone who sent me birthday wishes on OH and Facebook. It was an extra special end to my weekend when I came home and read them last night.

Coming up this week there will be some more new recipes, musings about fantasy football starting up soon, and I'll cap it off with a trip to Pittsburgh for my grandma's 80th birthday bash! Stay tuned. :-)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Special Circumstances

Look what I came home to yesterday!

Joe bought me these lovely flowers yesterday and they look so beautiful. Really the pictures don't do them justice at all. He has a wonderful way of surprising me with something great just when I need a little pick me up. It was so heartwarming to come into the house and see that after fighting the mobs of people being pushy on the Metro.

Don't get me wrong, I think it's great that people are using public transportation more since gas prices have skyrocketed. It's just that the people who don't regularly ride don't really understand the etiquette. For instance, if you want to stand on the escalator, you're supposed to stay to the right so that people can walk up the left side. There are signs and little announcements every so often indicating this. Yet people still stand there clueless and get annoyed when someone asks them to move. But what really bothers me is the sense of entitlement that's becoming more prevalent. This morning, an extremely pregnant woman got on the packed train and not one person offered her a seat. One man looked up at her and she thought he was going to offer, but he just sighed and went back to reading his paper. I thought that was awful. I know that we're all tired and want our moments of peace on the way to work, but really, not offering a very visibly pregnant woman a seat? She's carrying a pretty important package and probably isn't used to trying to balance it. I wanted to say something to the people around her, but it probably would have made her feel embarassed. At any rate, the train emptied a bit after a few stops and she got to sit down, at least for a little bit.

This little anecdote actually segues into what I actually wanted to post for all of you today. Special situations call for accomodation. I often worry about my vegan friends who have had weight loss surgery getting enough protein in their diets. That 50 gram minimum is hard to reach with animal products in my diet! So here's a vegan-friendly protein bar that's tasty and healthy for anyone. It's one of my favorites so far because it tastes like a wonderful banana-nut muffin!

Bananut Flax Bars

Cast of characters:
1 1/4 cup mashed banana
Scant 1/4 cup of spiced apple preserves (I can my own, but if you buy, try to find an all-fruit preserve)
1/4 cup almond flour
1/4 cup wheat flour
3/4 cup puffed brown rice
1/4 cup flaxseed meal
1 cup Kashi Seven Grain Puffs
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup vanilla protein powder
1/2 cup wheat bran
1/4 cup peanut butter
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla

Using these ingredients, follow the same procedure you would for my chocolate-peanut butter bars. The nutrition info is as follows: 153 calories, 4 grams of fat, 16 grams of carbs, and 14 grams of protein. I hope you enjoy them! I'm on a mission to create the perfect protein bar, so expect more bars (tested for deliciousness of course) in the future.

Tomorrow (my 23rd b-day!) Joe, Dioji and I are off to Chincoteague for a little weekend vacation. I'll be sure to take a lot of pictures, and will hopefully come back refreshed and ready to write. Have a healthy and happy weekend everyone!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Patterns and Transformations

Origami tessellations are created by taking one piece of paper and using only two types of folds to create a repeating pattern. Often, the shapes need to be twisted into place in order to flatten them out. The method regularly used is to draw the pattern on a sheet of paper, crease all of the lines and then fold the paper into the finished design. Here’s one of my first attempts:

See how some of the edges don’t quite come together? There are some places where I didn’t crease quite right or attempted the fold too many times and weakened the paper. Lots of mistakes, but not bad for a first try. What I learned from it was to be more precise in my creases and more conscientious of the pattern I was trying to create. After a little practice, I tried another pattern:

Of course, it’s still not perfect, but much better! I was more conscious of the shapes I was forming and took the time to use a folding bone (a hard, flat utensil that creases paper better than a soft fingertip) on each of the creases. The point of all of this? Had I done the same thing with only the conscientiousness of my first attempt, it wouldn’t have come together as well. I've heard it said that to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result is insanity. If we keep making the same mistakes and expecting a different result, we are destined to fail. This lesson can be applied to lots of life situations.

In high school, my friends and I often went out to eat after school on Fridays. We’d head over to any of the great places in the neighborhood where you could get a slice of gooey cheese pizza, a sandwich bigger than your mouth, or a juicy, greasy burger. I’d laugh, chat and rarely think about the kind of food I put into my body. I just knew it tasted good and I was having fun. As a result, I gained weight all throughout my high school years. There were times I’d try to eat better, but I’d inevitably end up back where I started, making the same mistakes.

After my surgery, I knew I’d have to be more conscientious about changing the pattern for good. The problem was that I still craved those fast foods, and while much of that has dissipated in four years, there are still times that a burger and fries sounds like the greatest thing ever.

So I have one.

Pictured is my dinner from last night. A bison sirloin burger cooked medium-rare and weighing a little less than 4 oz. (a total of 118 calories!) It’s topped with a slice of juicy summer tomato and about an ounce of shredded mozzarella. The “fries” are sliced parsnips tossed in olive oil, lemon thyme, green onion, salt, and pepper which I then spread on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for about a half hour (and yes, they really do taste like french fries).

Now before anyone gets on my case about the medium-rare ground meat, let me note that I bought the bison sirloin steak whole and ground it at home. In my mind, it’s no different than cooking that whole steak medium rare. Had I used store bought ground meat, I’d probably go to medium-well.

In the end, it’s all about making the decision to pay attention to the patterns and being willing to change them if they don’t work out. It’s well worth it.

Have a happy Tuesday all!

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Wimbledon Champ and the Olympian

In honor of Rafael Nadal, who defeated Roger Federer after the longest Wimbledon men's final in history yesterday (nearly 5 hours!), and Michael Phelps, who has competed in seven events and broken two world records at the U.S. Olympic Swimming trials (so far), I present a protein bar fit for a champion!

Cast of characters:
1 cup soy protein powder (I used vanilla flavored)
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup puffed brown rice
1/2 cup oat bran
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup milk chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups plain fat free yogurt
1/4 cup peanut butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 tsp. salt

2 mixing bowls
1 greased 9x13 pan
1 greased cookie sheet

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. If you're using a glass 9x13 pan, make it 325.

First, mix all of your dry ingredients together. If you use your hands, it's easier to get the brown sugar broken up.

When you finish, it will look something like this:

Next, whisk together the yogurt, peanut butter and vanilla until smooth.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir to combine. You'll need to use your hands near the end as it has the texture of very stiff cookie dough.

Press the dough evenly into the greased 9x13 pan and cook for 15 minutes.

Remove the pan and cut into 16 bars. A pizza cutter is useful here.

Arrange the cut bars on a cookie sheet.

Return the bars to the oven for another 15 minutes or until the edges are golden brown. If you like crispier bars (I do), simply turn the oven off after 15 minutes and leave them in the warm oven for up to 45 minutes.

The facts (per bar): 205 calories, 6 grams of fat, 26 grams of carbohydrates, and 16 grams of protein.

One of the great things about this recipe is it's versatility. If you want it to be dairy free, replace the yogurt with silken tofu, mashed banana, or applesauce. Trade out the chocolate chips for dried fruit and/or nuts if you want to go even healthier.

The Italian Job

I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone who doesn’t like Italian food. There’s nothing that makes a house smell better than a fresh pot of sauce simmering away on the stove all day. But what do you do when bread and pasta make you feel awful suddenly? Let me take a moment to explain why this happens.

Because a good portion of the small intestine is bypassed during the RNY procedure, a meal rich in simple carbohydrates can be a ticking time bomb. Those carbohydrates get digested too quickly and move directly into the bloodstream causing a spike in blood sugar. This is known as “dumping syndrome” because the sugars are literally dumping into the bloodstream. Symptoms include intense nausea, faintness, weakness, sweating and cramping. This is the main reason why RNY patients avoid bread and sweets like the plague. It’s just not worth it. Trust me.

So, as I contemplated Italian food, it seemed to me that I’d have to somehow remove those simple carbohydrates and replace them with something that would be flavorful, filling, and most importantly, rich in some kind of lean protein.

I tackled filled pasta first. There are a lot of different vegetables that work well as a replacement for pasta. For instance, replacing the noodles in manicotti with grilled or sautéed zucchini works well. But early on, I found that the one I liked the most was also the very simplest. I call it the ricotta bowl!

Just cut a small tomato in half, scoop out most of the insides and season it with salt and pepper. Next, fill it with about a 1/4 cup of ricotta (also seasoned) and sprinkle young asiago cheese and fresh parsley on top. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil. You can throw it under a broiler if you wish, but I find it a perfectly refreshing summer snack when served cold. When made with part-skim ricotta, it’s all of about 95 calories when finished.

As for non filled pasta dishes, it was my father who gave me the idea of replacing elbows or penne with cauliflower. Cauliflower is one of those wonderful foods that takes on the flavors of whatever it’s cooked with. Thus, a slow braise in a mix of canned tomatoes, homemade marinara sauce, herbs, sautéed onions, mushrooms imparted so many of the flavors of the dish it was based on that I didn’t even miss the noodles. I usually serve mine over a spoonful of seasoned light ricotta for extra protein, and finish the top with grated parmesan and fresh parsley.

And then there was pizza. Or pizza crust at least. It wasn’t the toppings that were the problem, it was their method of delivery. Whole wheat pizza dough was delicious and rich in complex carbohydrates, but it was so heavy that it often felt uncomfortable to eat it. However, a whole wheat tortilla was just enough to deliver a thin, crispy crust while withstanding the weight of any toppings.

After preheating an oven to 425 degrees, I brush both sides of the tortilla with extra virgin olive oil and then add sauce, herbs, cheese, and whatever might be on hand in the fridge. It’s a great way to get rid of left over cut vegetables and meats. After 10 minutes in the oven, this is what you have:

Nope, I’m definitely not missing out on anything.
Mangia bene!