Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Bowl of Goodness and a Great Team

Howdy folks! It’s been a very busy week here with school starting, but I’ve still had some time to play in the test kitchen as well as draft another great (in my humble opinion) fantasy football team.

If you liked my Chicken, Greens, and Beans Soup, you’ll probably really like this one too. I really needed to clean out my fridge, so I just used what was hanging around. To be honest, that’s one of the best ways to make a great soup. Leftovers can become something awesome. Without further ado, here’s Shrimp Veggie Bean Soup for your enjoyment.

Cast of Characters

16 oz. peeled, deveined raw shrimp

3 cups baby spinach

8 oz. diced mushrooms

3 slices pre-cooked bacon

1 head of broccoli, chopped

3 green onions, diced

3 cloves of garlic, minced

4 cups of vegetable broth

16 oz. canned diced tomatoes

16 oz. can of navy beans

16 oz. can of great northern beans

Begin by heating 1-2tbsp. olive oil in a dutch oven over medium-high heat and sautéing the mushrooms and garlic. When the mushrooms have given up some juices, add the green onion, bacon, and broccoli. Sautee everything over medium-high heat until the vegetables are just tender.

Add the vegetable broth, beans, and diced tomatoes and allow the soup to come to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer 10-15 minutes. Add the spinach one cup at a time, allowing each addition to wilt slightly before adding the next. Allow the soup to simmer for 2-3 minutes and then finally add the shrimp. Once the shrimp turn opaque (2-3 minutes) the soup is done! Serve alongside warm bread or parmesan crackers (for you carb watchers).

The recipe makes nine 1 cup serving with each one containing 133 calories, 2 grams of fat, 13 grams of carbohydrates, and 17 grams of protein. Mangia, mangia!

It’s been a very soup-y week. Between the chicken soup, shrimp soup, and a batch of turkey chili, I’ve been eating comfort food for nearly every meal (not that I’m complaining). It’s really helped to have those dishes frozen and ready to go anytime.

It’s going to sound weird, but I really like to have the chicken soup for breakfast. I really can’t pass up a day-starting meal with so much protein. It energizes me and allows me to work more effectively and efficiently. Sometimes, I stop at a café near my work for a bottle of water in the morning and it can be really hard to ignore all of their delicious looking pastries. It’s less hard when I know I have something that’s tastier to look forward to enjoying.

So other than being a soup-making machine this week, I’ve spent most of my time getting a feel for my classes. Monday night however, we finally got to have our fantasy football draft and I think it went really well. Judge for yourself:


QB: Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia

WR: Marques Colston, New Orleans

WR: Calvin Johnson, Detroit

WR: Hines Ward, Pittsburgh (I know, a total homer pick.)

RB: Steven Jackson, St. Louis

RB: Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville

TE: Chris Cooley, Washington

K: Nate Kaeding, San Diego

D: Chicago

On the bench:

QB: Jeff Garcia, Tampa Bay

WR: Patrick Crayton, Dallas

RB: Selvin Young, Denver

TE: Alge Crumpler, Tennessee

K: Phil Dawson, Cleveland (EW. Cleveland.)

D: Tennessee

I was much more vigilant about watching bye weeks this time around. I won’t have such a huge hole in this league’s team during one week. It looks like it’s going to be a really competitive one this year—everyone seemed really pumped up during the draft. The season opens next Thursday, so it’s about time to get excited!

Alright, well I’m off to watch some preseason football and maybe catch a bit of Sen. Obama’s speech at the DNC later (if our antennae can pick up the local station carrying it). I took tomorrow off, so I’m getting my holiday started early. I hope everyone has a wonderful Labor Day weekend! I look forward to sharing any delicious creations or fun stories that come out of mine.

Ciao for now, friends!

Monday, August 25, 2008

On Food and Fantasy Football

Good morning, folks! There wasn’t much time to write this weekend. I was busy getting ready for the start of classes, fantasy football drafts, and doing some good cooking so that I have meals handy for the week.

As promised, however, I have a fantasy football roster, and a dinner report from Dino to share with all of you fine people.

Team WiiFat (It’s a league with a bunch of video-gamers, so…yeah…)

QB: David Garrard, Jacksonville
WR: Terrell Owens, Dallas
WR: Joey Galloway, Tampa Bay
WR: Patrick Crayton, Dallas
RB: Willie Parker, Pittsburgh
RB: Fred Taylor, Jacksonville
TE: Alge Crumpler, Tennessee
K: Mason Crosby, Green Bay
D: Seattle
DL: Jason Babin, Seattle
DL: William Joseph, Oakland
DB: Dominique Barber, Houston

On the Bench
RB: Kenny Watson, Cincinnati
WR: Shaun McDonald, Detroit
QB: Vince Young, Tennessee
WR: Dennis Northcutt, Jacksonville

All in all, it was a pretty strong draft. My only complaint is that several of my players have the same bye week, so there’ll be a week where I lack some depth. Other than that, I’m fairly pleased with how it went, and it gave me an idea of some strategies to use for my draft tonight.

Yes, tonight. It was supposed to be on Saturday, but our final team didn’t join until less than a half hour before the draft and Yahoo took our draft time away. I was so angry. Luckily, it wasn’t postponed too much and it looks like everyone will still be able to play. Oh well, at least it gave me more time to evaluate talent. Plus, this pre-season weekend was kind of brutal on some teams and left a couple of normally decent players a bit broken. Luckily, no one I’ve drafted so far has a serious injury.

Onto other news… Friday night’s dinner was absolutely wonderful. Joe met up with me after work and we meandered over to Cleveland Park where we had a drink at Alero before our dinner reservation. When we got to Dino, it was fairly empty, but by the time our entrees came around the place was just packed. The restaurant is in a small space, so it was a little loud with so many other people in the room, but it wasn’t impossible to hold a conversation.

The food was excellent. I started with an Antipasto di Verdure (vegetarian antipasti) that included small tastes of roasted tomatoes, pickled eggplant wrapped in grilled eggplant, minted baby squash, a cold bean salad, and some fresh mozzarella and sharp pecorino. Most of it is in my refrigerator at home, because I really wanted to save room to try each course I ordered. Joe started with some fried calamari that was served with a roasted red pepper sauce. The sauce had a bit of a kick to it, which I liked, but the squid alone was just delectable. The batter was light, rich, and somewhat flaky (almost like pastry crust) and the squid pieces were perfectly textured. Calamari is one of those dishes that can come out very rubbery if prepared improperly, but I’m guessing that those pieces got an overnight soak in buttermilk to soften them.

Our mains came out shortly thereafter. Joe got a flat iron steak that was marinated in some well-aged balsamic vinegar. I was enjoying my own entrée so much that I didn’t have room to taste his, but he said it was excellent. The steak came with some roasted potatoes which were fairly non-descript, but still tasty. For myself, I got the Zuppa di Pesce, which was a tomato-seafood broth full of mussels, bay scallops, sea scallops, wild pink shrimp, calamari, fish, and clams. It was absolutely mouth-watering. All of the shellfish, with the exception of the shrimp were served in their shells, which gave the plate a wealth of color. Each type was flavorful and delicious, but my favorites were the enormous sea scallops. They had an extremely buttery texture which was well complemented by the tomato flavor from the broth. My soup was served with two large pieces of grilled bread that had been slathered in olive oil and garlic. Joe and I each had a bite and it was very good, but neither of us was in the mood to fill up on bread.

The dessert selection was full of great choices, but Dino also offered the option of selecting two cheeses from their menu as a final course. I went that route to avoid getting something too sweet (which would have left me soured on the experience). I chose Longo Robiola Pagliarino, a soft-ripened cheese aged in a pile of straw and flown in every two weeks from Torino, and a Guffanti Ragusano, a hard to find, well-aged raw-milk cheese from Ragusa, Sicily that had a sharp bite to it. My selections were very pleasing and complimented each other well. I wasn’t too crazy about the Robiola at first, but it was one of those flavors that grew on me with each taste. It was very nutty and almost brie-like in texture. The Ragusano reminded me of a rich, long-aged pecorino with a bit of a grassy flavor to it. The cheeses were served alongside three small toasts, candied pecans, and a balsamic condiment. For his dessert, Joe selected the house made vanilla gelato which was served “drowned” in espresso. His delighted expression said it all regarding the taste there.

All in all, we decided it was our best restaurant week experience to date. It was a great way to explore a part of D.C. that I hadn’t seen before and enjoy a meal that left us both satisfied, but not overstuffed. Although we participated in the restaurant week promotion (3 courses plus a complimentary glass of grapp/limoncello/moscato for $35.08), I still thought that the menu was reasonably priced for the quality of the food presented.

Aside from our fantasy football draft and delicious trip to Dino, the weekend was mostly spent relaxing. I spent a little bit of time looking over my course syllabi for the semester and preparing my computer for the onslaught of downloads involved in online study. I also came up with a new creation this weekend after having a craving for something that my dad always makes.

Often, when I’m home in Pittsburgh my dad makes an enormous pan of greens and beans, which is exactly as it sounds: A huge pan full of garlic, white beans, and leafy greens sautéed together until delicious. I decided that it would make a really good soup with a few additions, and I came up with this:

Greens, Beans, and Chicken Soup

1 16oz. can cannellini beans
1 16oz. can northern beans
3 cups of baby spinach, rinsed
8 oz. baby bella mushrooms
2-3 pieces pre-cooked bacon, diced
1 32 oz. box natural chicken broth, or 32 oz. homemade
2 cloves garlic
2 medium carrots
1 lb. chicken breasts, diced into one inch pieces and dredged lightly in flour
1/4 cup grated parmesan, asiago, and/or romano cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Trader Joe’s 21 seasoning salute (or a mixture of onion powder, a bay leaf, basil, parsley, and thyme)

In a dutch oven over medium-high heat, sauté the garlic, bacon, mushrooms, and carrots until the vegetables are slightly softened and then set them aside on a small plate.

Add a small amount of olive oil to the dutch oven and add the chicken. Once the chicken is golden on all sides, add the broth, sautéed vegetables, and both cans of beans to the pot. Simmer for 15 minutes and then add the spinach one cup at a time, allowing each addition to wilt slightly before adding the next. Simmer for 5-10 more minutes and then stir in the grated cheese.

The pot makes 9 1-cup servings at 142 calories, 3 grams of fat, 11 grams of carbohydrates, and 18 grams of protein. It’s really warm and comforting—and I love any dish that requires only one pot to make. I froze mine in single serving containers and spent most of the weekend devouring it. Luckily, I saved some to take to work this week.

Well, after that bizarre whirlwind tour of my weekend, I’m off to face a new week. Fantasy draft #2 is tonight, and I’ll be sure to update my musings throughout the week. Have a great Monday, and keep smiling. Ciao!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Classes, Banapples, and Football (oh my!)

Yesterday was a very productive day. I finished the assignments for my first graduate course. Granted, it was a one-credit class to prepare for online learning, but it still brings me one credit closer to being a librarian. I also had an online orientation via the Elluminate platform last night. It just amazes me how far technology has come. Elluminate is as close to being in a real-live classroom as it gets. We had discussions via chat and microphone, and learned how to use all of the application’s functions. Any action you might have in a live classroom (raising your hand, writing on the board, taking a poll, splitting into groups...etc.) is available via on-screen buttons. Applications and presentations can be shared, and moderators can provide “web tours” if they want to explore a website with the class. Some professors also use it to host virtual office hours. Finally, there’s a “drop-in center” where students can chat with one another and practice using the various techniques. I imagine it will really come in handy for meetings when working on group projects. I’m very excited for the coming semester.

Aside from getting a head start on classes and orientation, it was also a successful day of trying new foods and baking. I tried roasted-salted edamame for the first time today. They’re just roasted soybeans, but have a nutty, almost peanut-like flavor. A ¼ cup is 130 calories and 14 grams of protein. They taste like they’d be a fantastic salad topper or trail mix ingredient. I may add some to the leftover steamed shrimp and broccoli I had for dinner and eat it cold for lunch tomorrow

While at the market, I also picked up some apple chips to make a fruity protein bar which I’ve dubbed “the banapple-nut bar.” They came out great and had a texture similar to my apple-cake bars. Here’s the recipe and method for those interested:

Banapple Nut Protein Bars

¼ cup soy flour
¼ cup almond flour (just grind blanched almonds to a cornmeal consistency)
1 packet kashi honey-cinnamon 7 grain hot cereal
2 scoops of vanilla protein powder (or about 60g)
½ tsp. baking soda
pinch of salt
2 ½ tbsp. SF cinnamon syrup (hazelnut or caramel would be fine too)
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 egg white
2 tbsp. cashew-macadamia butter
2 tbsp. chopped pecans
¼ cup banana chips, chopped
¼ cup apple chips, chopped
1 tbsp. apple butter (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit

In a large bowl, combine the almond flour, soy flour, ½ of the packed of kashi, ½ of the protein powder, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon. Add the cinnamon syrup and mix well until everything is slightly wet. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg white and nut butter until smooth. Add that mixture to the dry ingredients and mix well. Finally, add the other ½ of the kashi packet, protein powder, pecans, banana chips, and apple chips. Mix well until a sticky batter forms.

Line a 9x5 loaf pan with parchment paper or greased aluminum foil. Grease or lightly wet your hands and pat the batter into the pan evenly. Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. As soon as the pan comes out of the oven, drizzle on the apple butter and spread it evenly. It will melt slightly and create a thin glaze. When cool, remove the bars from the pan and cut into 6 equal pieces.

Nutrition facts: 172 calories, 11 grams of fat, 14 grams of carbohydrates, and 10 grams of protein.

If you’re concerned about fat, you can replace the nut butter with some applesauce or mashed banana and/or nix the chopped pecans. If you still want a nutty flavor without adding too much fat, try using PB2 in place of the nut butter. Keep in mind, however, that the fats in nuts are monounsaturated and have been shown to lower levels of bad cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease when eaten in moderate amounts (reference: Mayo Clinic website). Walnuts and flaxseeds in particular contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids which are even better for heart health.

If Little Red Riding Hood’s granny had me for a grandchild, I can assure you that she would have chased that wolf out of her house lickety-split. That’s because I would have brought this:

This is my goody basket. It’s where I keep my protein and vitamin rich snacks so that I can grab one or two and get out the door quickly in the morning. As much as I love making my own protein bars, there are some flavors that I simply haven’t mastered yet. I usually have Kashi Chocolate-Peanut and Cinnamon Coffee Cake Protein-Fiber bars on hand, as well as some of the South Beach Peanut Butter or Cinnamon Raisin Protein Cereal bars. South Beach does make “meal bars,” but they’re high in sugar alcohols which I tend not to tolerate. Also packed in my basket are a batch of my chocolate vita-cupcakes and a batch of my new banapple nut bars. Granny would have been power-packed and ready to lay the beat-down on any nasty wolf that came her way.

Keeping healthy foods in high supply is crucial to balanced eating. Without that basket, I’d be scrambling around the kitchen in the morning trying to find things to throw together that are high protein, high iron, and just all around good for me. Take the time to prepare things for yourself in advance and it’ll make eating well significantly easier. Most soups freeze very well, so I try to make a large pot, let it cool slightly, and then put it in single-serving containers in the freezer. I take one out in the morning, toss it in my bag, and by lunch it’s thawed enough to get nice and toasty after about a minute and a half in the microwave. I’m currently eating my way through a batch of cauliflower-cheese-chicken chowder.

The reason I’m focusing on this so much now is that I know once classes get into full swing, I’ll have a lot of other things on my mind. With a good meal plan in place, there's one less thing to worry about.

In other news, I have my first fantasy football draft of the season today. Joe and I joined a league with a bunch of people from a forum that we frequent. I’ve got some lists made, but I want to narrow a few more things down and check injury reports one more time. I’ll post my roster here tonight or tomorrow for anyone who’s interested.

That’s all for now. It’s almost the weekend, so “Just keep swimming,” as Dory said so many times in Finding Nemo. Think positive and have a wonderful Thursday everyone. Ciao!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Happiest Cupcake

This is a very happy cupcake:

I tried some Deep Chocolate Vitamuffins over the weekend and really liked them. The chocolate flavor was neither fakey or overly sweet. I even took them to a get together at a friend's house and they got rave reviews. Last night I had an epiphany and realized that not only was there a possibility of making them taste even better, I could even improve their nutrition in the process.

Here's a warm batch of my Vita-Protein Cupcakes with the necessary ingredients in the background.

Cast of Characters:

1 box Deep Chocolate Vitamuffin Mix
2 scoops whey chocolate protein powder (I usedLean Dessert Chocolate Fudge)
3 egg whites
1/2 tsp. baking powder

Not pictured: 1/4 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips and 1 1/4 cups of water as called for in Vitamuffin mix recipe. ***NOTE: To reduce the sugar content of this recipe, use sugar-free chocolate chips or skip them altogether. The cakes still taste great!***


Preheat your oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit

Begin by mixing the egg whites and water together in a large bowl. Add the protein powder, muffin mix, chocolate chips, and baking powder. Mix everything until thoroughly combined. Line a 12 cup muffin tin with paper cups and coat them with non-stick spray. Spoon the batter equally into the cups. It will take about 3.5 tablespoons per muffin. Bake for 23-27 minutes or until the tops spring back when lightly poked with a finger. Don't overcook them or they'll dry out.

They'll look like this when they come out:

They're absolutely wonderful as-is, but if you want frosting (who doesn't?) here's an easy recipe for a good frosting that keeps well stored in the fridge.

Combine 1 oz. light cream cheese, 1/2 tsp. vanilla, 1 tsp. cocoa powder, and 1/2 of a small package of sugar-free chocolate pudding powder in a food processor. While processing, slowly add milk until the frosting reaches the consistency you like. I used about 1/4 cup of skim milk in mine. If you want a fluffier frosting, fold in a few spoonfuls of cool-whip free. Personally, I like my frosting thick and creamy. Tonight, I also added a pinch of unsweetened coconut to the top of one.

Generally, I leave the frosting in the fridge in a small plastic container and only frost a cake just before eating it (or packing it for a post-lunch dessert!). That way, I can have different flavors if I'm not in the mood for all chocolate. For instance, you could try butterscotch or cheesecake pudding mix instead of the chocolate. Or, nix the pudding mix all together and replace it with some all-fruit preserves. I bet a strawberry-cream cheese frosting would be great!

The final (and very delicious) verdict: Each cupcake is 122 calories (about 130 with frosting), contains 2 grams of fat, 20 grams of carbohydrates, 6 grams of fiber, 9 grams of sugar, and 7 grams of protein. They also provide 50% of the recommended allowances for vitamins A, C, D, E, B-6, B-12 and 50% of recommended allowances for iron and zinc.

Now you have an excuse to eat a cupcake for breakfast (or any other time for that matter). How awesome is that? It's certainly the happiest and healthiest cupcake that's ever been in MY kitchen. Anyway, I hope you get a chance to try them and that you enjoy them as much as I do.

That's all for now, friends. Mangia bene!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Iron (wo)Man!

No, I’m not talking about the Black Sabbath song or the awesome movie with Robert Downey Jr. I’m talking about the joys of pumping one’s body so full of iron that it has no choice but to absorb at least some of it!

First of all, let me explain why iron is so important. Low iron levels result in decreased incorporation of hemoglobin into the red blood cells. Hemoglobin carries oxygen to various important parts of the body, thus an iron deficiency results in a lack of oxygen in the blood (oh no!). That deficiency can result in concentration problems, brittle fingernails, pallid skin, cold intolerance, headaches, and tiredness.

So now you’re wondering, “Oh God, how do I know if I’m deficient??” Well it’s simple. Have a doctor take some blood and look at your hematocrit, ferritin, iron, and transferrin saturation.

Hematocrit- The percentage of red blood cells which make up your blood. (Normal is 45-62% in men and 37-48% in women)

Ferritin- The protein that carries iron around in the blood. (Normal is 12-300ng/mL in men and 12-150ng/mL in women)

Iron- A mineral needed to incorporate hemoglobin into red blood cells. (Normal is 75-175 in men and 65-165 in women)

Transferrin is the glycoprotein that iron is bound to in the bloodstream. The saturation is the percentage of transferring binding sites which are filled. (Normal is 20-45%)

My levels at my last blood test (which I mentioned in an earlier post) were…*drumroll*

Hematocrit: 25%, Ferritin: 1, Iron: 9, and Transferrin saturation: 2%.

Problematic, eh? So, aside from starting a low-dose iron supplement, it’s very important to get more absorbable iron in my diet. Well, I already love red meat with every beat of my heart, and I love spinach and broccoli. But that would get really boring after awhile, so I did some research.

Blackstrap molasses are wonderful in cookies, gingerbread, and bran muffins. They also contain a whopping 13% of your daily iron in a mere 2tsp.

One package of these delicious baby clams contains 90% of your daily iron. What do you do with a packet of clams? Personally, I just like to eat them, but white-wine clam sauce can go over just about any vegetable or pasta, and alternatively you could bread and fry them in a bit of oil. If you’re a New Englander, I know you appreciate the joy of a delicious clam roll. Clams also make a great dip mixed with some low fat cream cheese and herbs.

If you like cereal, grabbing a serving of any variety of Total provides 100% of your daily iron. There are a bunch of different varieties now, but I really like the cinnamon-crunch. It reminds me of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, only slightly less sweet. If you think whole-wheat cereal is gross (I like it!), crush up some Total flakes and use them in a batch of muffins. It adds a ton of iron and whole grains.

If you read my blog regularly, you’ll know that I love red lentils as a replacement for meat in a meat loaf. Lentils are not only loaded with protein and fiber, but 1/4 cup uncooked accounts for 15% of your daily iron requirement.

Those are just some of my favorite iron-rich foods. Other good ones are shrimp, dark meat poultry, mussels, liver, beans, pumpkin seeds, and potatoes with skin.

These foods help your body absorb iron: Oranges and other citrus, strawberries, broccoli, tomatoes, brussel sprouts, potatoes, green/red peppers, and white wine. Unfortunately, red wine will block iron absorption because of the tannins, as will caffeine and sweet potatoes.

Once again, it’s all about being creative with what you eat and managing calories wisely. I cannot recommend journaling your food enough. Not only will it help weight-loss, programs like Fitday also allow you to run reports to find out what vitamins/nutrients you need to get into your diet. Give it a shot sometime.

Oh, and I forgot—not that this has much to do with iron, but here’s brilliant creation of the day: Vanilla Frozen Yogurt

One 24oz. container of vanilla yogurt (I was making this for Joe, so I didn’t use low-sugar, but it would work just as well)

½ of a small package of sugar-free fat-free vanilla pudding mix

1-2 tbsp. fructose (you could use splenda or even a sugar free syrup)

1.5 tsp. vanilla extract

Mix it all together and toss it in an ice cream maker. Thirty minutes later you’ll have some very delicious, sweet/tangy, and fairly healthy vanilla frozen yogurt.

In other news, I’ve had a Wii Fit injury! Who even thought that it was possible to hurt yourself with a video game?? Here’s what I posted on OH today:

I love yoga. But I've never been very brave about it. Sure I'll do the poses on one foot or something, but things that require going upside down I always just thought I could never do. Too fat, too inflexible, right Neen?

Well, last night I finally got the courage to try a shoulder stand, which is this...

Much to my surprise, I was able to do it and hold it for about 30-40 seconds. I kept telling myself to engage my abdominals and support my lower back. I concentrated on pushing the energy up through my feet and it was just amazing. There was no one there to see it, but I wanted to call everyone I knew. I almost called down my boyfriend to take a

I had another “wow” moment this morning.

When I went to CVS and bought a lower back brace in a small-medium because I continued to do yoga after being very tired out from that pose and left my lower back screaming in pain.

Moral of the story: I am awesomely stubborn, and don't do yoga when you're overtired.”

Thankfully, my physician only laughed at me for a moment before giving me something for the pain. How very kind of her.

That’s all for today. I hope everyone has a marvelous weekend. It’s Restaurant Week here in D.C. and Joe and I will be dining at Dino’s tomorrow night. I will most certainly post a trip report. Other than that, it’s another weekend of pre-season football and Olympics! Yay!

Ciao for now!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Two down, six to go! (Boca loaf inside)

What a weekend! Saturday night, we watched as Michael Phelps claimed his first gold medal in the men's 400 IM. It was the event he said would be his toughest. Well, he blew past his own world record by 2 seconds and made it look easy. Then, last night Jason Lezak pulled of the comeback of all comebacks to bring the men victory in the 4X100 freestyle relay. It was unbelievable. Coming out of the final turn, he was still nearly a full body-length behind the Frenchman Alain Bernard. Suddenly, it just seemed like something changed inside of Lezak. Barnard hadn't slowed down. If anything, he was exploding during the last 50 meters. Lezak just wanted it a little more, and his determination paid off when he touched the wall first.

So, thanks to Jason Lezak, Phelps' quest for 8 gold medals continues. Here's the list of events with their televised times (ET)

400m IM- August 9 @ 10pm- GOLD
4X100m freestyle relay- August 10 @ 11:01pm- GOLD
200m freestyle- August 11 @ 10:13pm
200m butterfly- August 12 @ 10:18pm
4X200m freestyle relay- August 12 @ 11:16pm
4X50m IM- August 14 @ 1o:45pm
100m butterfly- August 15 @ 10:07pm
4X100 medley relay- August 16 @ 10:55pm

In comparison to the feats of athletics I saw this weekend, my accomplishments were rather small. In my own way, I had some good success. Here's another vegan loaf recipe that's a bit more "meaty" tasting.

Cast of Characters:

½ cup almonds (ground to a coarse meal)
2 TB olive oil One onion, diced
One large garlic clove, minced
One large carrot, peeled and grated
Two celery ribs, diced
One red or green pepper, diced
One cup baby bella mushrooms, coarsely chopped
2 cups Boca Ground "meat"
1 cup cooked whole wheat cous cous
1/4 - 1/2 cup vegetable broth
1 teaspoon mixed seasonings (whatever herbs and spices you like)
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tsp. salt

Use the same method as the lentil-veggie loaf and add only as much vegetable broth as is needed to bring the loaf together. This loaf only takes about 40 minutes to cook, although you can leave it in the oven for 5 extra minutes if you want the top to be very crispy. Divided into 8 slices, it comes out to about 116 calories and 10 grams of protein per slice. It is low in fat and carbohydrates too, but I don't have the numbers with me right now. I'll post them in the comments later if anyone shows interest.

Here’s me deciding that a fork won’t be necessary…

In other news, I decided on a chocolate protein powder to experiment with. It’s by BSN and it’s called Lean Dessert (in chocolate fudge pudding flavor). It made really good ice cream—yum! I really like it, but I’m still trying out more samples because as powders go, it comes in a little bit low at 20g protein per scoop. I got a sample of Jay Robb’s whey powder at Vitamin Shoppe. That comes in at 25g protein per scoop and they only use milk from cows that have not been given hormones. To me that seems like a good thing. I have enough hormones of my own, thanks.

Also, looks like it’s back to the drawing board on the iron front. Remember that I mentioned I was due for blood work in August? Well, everything came back looking great with the exception of my ferritin (1), iron (9), iron saturation (2), and hematocrit (25%). It’s really hard not to get discouraged. Pushing more red meat into my diet doesn’t exactly thrill me because of the cholesterol factor, so fixing this issue will be about making good choices and creating new ways to sneak iron into recipes.

Safeway sells giant bags of frozen shrimp and scallops. I can toss those into my stir-fries along with vegetables like broccoli and red peppers that aid in iron absorption. I also plan to buy some bran flakes and molasses to make iron muffins. Another thought that crossed my mind was finding some young, mild calves or chicken livers, chopping them finely, and adding that to one of my protein loaves. Like I said, I’m going to have to get creative. It’ll probably mean giving up my beloved protein bars as snacks in exchange for something that is high protein AND high iron, like some tuna fish or a molasses-bran muffin. At any rate, I spent most of last evening researching high-iron recipes and I will most certainly post anything successful.

Even though I’m discouraged about my iron level, I have to remember that I’ve successfully raised my vitamin D and B vitamins, have normal liver functions, and have maintained proper levels of everything else. My goal now is to keep eating healthy and to raise my hematocrit as much as I can. I’ve said it before, but I truly believe writing down a goal is all the motivation we need sometimes, and this situation is no exception. I will fine tune my eating habits to focus on protein and high iron. Since I’m not a medical expert, I’ve also consulted a hematologist to help me monitor everything.

I hope everyone is having a wonderful start to their week and that the sun is shining wherever you are. Stay motivated and stay positive!

Ciao for now, friends.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Jonesing for some football...

So it seems that all has come to a stalemate in the "retired-just-kidding-what-do-you-mean-I-can't-start?" drama between Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers. Mike McCarthy announced last night that Aaron Rodgers will remain the starting quarterback and that Favre's future will not be with the Packers. Rumors of trade negotiations between Green Bay and Tampa Bay have already surfaced. If that's true, I actually feel really bad for Tampa Bay's current starter, Jeff Garcia. He's actually started to produce a decent offense down there, and to get shoved out by Favre's ego would be a slap in the face (in my opinion).

And yet, I can't get too mad because, like it or not, the NFL is a business. If the Bucs, Jets, or any other team showing interest in Favre thinks that he's the best chance their franchise has for success, of course they're going to take it! They'd be stupid not to. With a guy like Favre, ticket sales, merchandise sales, and publicity would skyrocket. Whoever has Favre this season is going to be in the spotlight whether the team has a horrific season or a great one. Everyone is going to be watching to see what happens. This soap opera is going to reach Mike Vick proportions.

Elsewhere around the NFL, training camps continue with the usual random injuries, hold-outs, and competitions for depth chart positions. Mostly, I've just been keeping an eye on the black and gold. I was VERY excited to see James Walker's recent report from the Steelers training camp. This season has potential to be the best of Roethlisberger's career thanks to the weapons and defense being built up around him. That's not to say the upcoming season will be a piece of cake. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Their opponents this season have a .598 winning percentage giving the Steelers the hardest strength of schedule in the NFL. On tap they have games against the entire NFC East (and I live with a Redskins fan!), a Jaguars team that was very strong last season, the ever in sync Colts, Patriots, and two potentially tough games against their division rivals, the Cleveland Browns. As much as it pains me to say it, Cleveland has the players to be a very competitive team this season. Their question mark lies in the players' ability to create a team chemistry.

What gives me confidence are the reports of good mentoring to the rookies on the parts of the veteran Steelers players. Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall could prove to be a dangerous two-back tandem.

Oh, and did I mention that 12 year vetern Hines Ward was voted the NFL's smartest offensive (non-quarterback) player by the NFL coaches?

That's right, behind that never-ending grin is a player who can study a defense quickly on the field and adjust his route/timing as necessary. That's a big advantage for the passing game.

On the other side of the ball, Pittsburgh returns this season with most of it's top-ranked defense intact. The injury bug has been around already to aggravate Troy Polamalu's hamstring and James Harrison's groin, but the way I see it I'd rather it happen now than mid-season.

The only lasting training camp injury that hampers the Steelers is Daniel Sepulveda's ACL tear, in his kicking leg no less. Sepulveda is set for surgery and currently out for the season. His ability to bury offenses on the other side of the field was a huge boon to Pittsburgh's defense, and now someone will have to come in and fill those shoes.

The Steelers' preseason begins this Friday evening versus the Philadelphia Eagles. I doubt we'll see much of the starters, but I admit I'm very curious to see if Donovan McNabb is as healthy as the Eagles are claiming him to be.

Also starting this Friday are the Beijing Olympics! From last week's post, I'm sure you all can tell how excited I am for that. Not too much else is going on in Neen's world this week. According to UPS, my package from Vitalady should be delivered today, so I'm really hoping I can try some new protein bars/ice creams and share some more recipes with my wonderful readers.

I hope that everyone is having a wonderful week. If you're feeling discouraged (I was last night after an experiment gone wrong in the kitchen), remember that you can always seek advice and try again. Things don't always work out the first (or even the second) time, but if you resolve to keep trying and remain determined to reach your goals, you'll surely make it. Keep thinking positive! Ciao for now.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Eat Your Veggies: Lentil-Veggie Loaf

Comfort food is a wonderful thing, and in my opinion, there’s nothing better than a good meatloaf. It’s tasty, high in protein, and makes enough for days of leftovers. However, some RNY post-ops have difficulty digesting meat and that can make it hard for them to meet their daily protein requirement. I’m fortunate enough not to have that problem, but here’s a recipe for my meat-intolerant friends. Bonus: It’s vegan friendly, too!

Lentil-Veggie Loaf

Cast of Characters:

½ cup almonds (ground to a coarse meal)
2 TB olive oil
One onion, diced
One large garlic clove, minced
One large carrot, peeled and grated
Two celery ribs, diced
One cup baby bella mushrooms, coarsely chopped
**2 cups cooked lentils
1 cup uncooked oat bran
1 teaspoon mixed seasonings (whatever herbs and spices you like)
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tsp. salt


Pre-heat an oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

**To cook the lentils, place one cup of thoroughly rinsed red lentils into a pot with two cups of water. Let it come to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for about 45 minutes.

Begin by dicing all of the vegetables. Sauté the onions and garlic for a minute, and then add the rest of the vegetables, and sauté until they are slightly softened.

In a large bowl, combine the oat bran, flaxseed meal, almonds, herbs, and seasonings.

Add the lentils and sautéed vegetables, (don’t wash the sauté pan if you want to make gravy) and then mix/mash until the mixture is moist, soft, and can keep a shape. It should not be runny, but if it is, add a little extra oat bran to thicken it.

Thoroughly grease a loaf pan and press the mixture into it.
Bake for approximately 45 minutes to an hour (in my oven it took 50 minutes). The outside will be crisp, but the inside should remain somewhat moist. Yum!

Oh, and remember that sauté pan you left out for gravy? (I didn’t have any tonight, but I promise it’s good!) You can make a tasty pan gravy while the loaf is cooling a bit. If there’s any excess oil remaining in the sauté pan, drain it off, and then return the pan to the stove. Let it get warm over medium heat, and then remove just long enough to add ¼ cup of dry white wine before returning it to the stove. Scrape the browned bits off the bottom of the pan using a spatula, and then add ¾ cup of vegetable stock or broth. To thicken the gravy, bring the liquid to a boil and then add a slurry (1 tbsp. of cornstarch mixed with 2 tbsp. COLD water) while stirring vigorously. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and allow the gravy took cook for 5-10 minutes. Season with herbs and spices similar to those you added to the lentil-veggie loaf. Spoon the gravy over a slice and enjoy!

Enjoy the leftovers as a sandwich filling, try topping cold slices with different sauces (mustard, ketchup, salsa, marinara sauce...etc.) or even topping them with other sautéed vegetables. A combination of sweet and hot peppers sounds great to me. Be creative!

The recipe yields 8 generous slices with 153 calories, 5 grams of fat, 18 grams of carbohydrates, and 10 grams of protein each. It might be a low calorie meal, but it certainly sticks with you (I had a slice an hour ago and still feel quite full).

Tomorrow, I hope to make some new protein bars. Joe and I went out to dinner at Moe’s Southwest Grill (home of my new favorite 200 calorie taco!) last night and there happened to be a Trader Joe’s next door. Needless to say, I returned home with a bunch of new ingredients to try out.

We have some friends coming over to watch the Redskins/Colts game tomorrow night, so I’m also pondering what healthy snacks I could serve. I got some mushroom-asiago chicken sausages at TJ’s and I’m thinking they could come in handy. We shall see.

I hope everyone is having a lovely weekend. Mine has already been full of fun and pleasant surprises, including these:

Irises! My favorite flower. What can I say? I snagged a great guy.
Ciao for now, friends!

Friday, August 1, 2008

A Little Bit of Everything

There was a really excellent article on ESPN the other day by Eric Adelson discussing the magnitude of the challenge that Michael Phelps will face during the Olympics. Including preliminary races, semi-finals, and finals, he will swim 17 races in the span of nine days.

Here’s a link to the article:

This is the part I really wanted to quote though, because I’ve never quite been able to describe to anyone what swimming the individual medley is like. For those who don’t know, the IM is an event in which swimmers swim equal distances of all four strokes (butterfly, backstroke, breastroke, and freestyle). The longest race of that type I’ve ever competed in was the 200m version and I distinctly recall seeing black spots afterward—although it was one of the greatest adrenaline rushes I’ve ever felt. At any rate, here’s a paragraph from the article that explains what the 400m event feels like:

“Phelps begins with the most difficult event: swimming's decathlon, the 400 individual medley. The race begins with 100 meters of butterfly, in which he must propel his body out of the pool, over and over, until he feels as if he's doing squat jumps with two kids on his back. The fly requires an edge, almost an anger. ‘You have to be tougher, meaner,’ says 1992 gold medalist Mel Stewart. ‘If you don't have a base of strength and stamina, you fade. You die.’

Next, the backstroke. Lie on your back, put ankle weights on and kick for a full minute. That's what the backstroke feels like. By the end of these 100 meters, a swimmer's quads and abs are shot. The race is half over.

Switch to breaststroke, Phelps' weakest. He will struggle to hold form: back straight, elbows tight, head up, wrists snapping just so. His arms will whine and the field will close in and someone might even pass him, as Ryan Lochte did in the trials.

The freestyle leg will take anything Phelps has left. During breaststroke, muscles lock up. Still, he must sprint for 50 more seconds. Many swimmers drive the final 25 meters without lifting their head to breathe, to wring the final tenths out of the clock. At trials, Matt Grevers saw spots and felt his consciousness start to slip away. Phelps broke the world record to barely win the event at trials, and he called it ‘one of the most painful races of my life.’ He has 15 left.”

…And yet, some people commenting on ESPN continue to claim that swimming isn’t “a sport in the true sense.” What does that even mean? In order to find “the true sense” that this person was talking about I turned to the American Heritage Dictionary. I figured that if I found the definition of the word, I could then determine whether or not swimming fit the criteria. The first listing for “sport” came up as follows: “Physical activity that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often engaged in competitively.”

Well, I certainly came out of the pool breathing hard and feeling tired when I raced, so there’s the physical activity component. As for the next part, swimming most assuredly has rules, (i.e. touching the wall with two hands on certain strokes, no flutter kicking during butterfly or breastroke..etc). Lastly, judging from the endless number of swim meets I went to from ages 6-18, I’d say that it is “often engaged in competitively.”

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a sport! And now that I think of it, those very same principals apply to another sport that some people roll their eyes at even more:

Synchronized Swimming!

I think that synchronized swimming (and figure skating) often get put down as sports simply because when done properly, they look so beautiful and effortless. That’s how these people are trained. Team USA synchronized swimmer Kate Hooven said of the lack of respect, “It gets frustrating at times. Maybe we make it look too easy.”

Here’s an idea of what’s happening under the water for those swimmers. First of all, it’s an immediate disqualification if the bottom of the pool is touched. That means suspending the body in water while performing maneuvers which require breath control, balance, muscle control, and a big smile on your face. Part of the training regimen used to achieve this involves using 10 lb. weight belts and 2 1/2 lb. ankle weights during practice. Like most elite athletes, they devote 6-8 hours a day to their sport. While much of that time is spent in the water, they also do a lot of biking, running, yoga, and pilates to maintain flexibility and strength.

In other words, try treading water for 4 minutes, hold your breath during most of it, and add a host of underwater somersaults (in both directions) and then tell me if you can still determine which way is up. That’s nothing compared to what you’ll see done at the Olympics this year. I’d encourage everyone to try and catch the finals, because it’s bound to be an impressive display of athleticism and artistry.

All of this drama and fun starts a week from today. If there’s a specific event you don’t want to miss, here is the schedule of televised events.

I hope everyone had a wonderful week and that you're looking forward to a relaxing weekend. Joe and I tried out the Wii Fit last night and I have to say, I'm just amazed at the technology that went into creating the game. The idea that the balance board wirelessly synchronizes with the system and can feel every little movement you make is just crazy to me. The game itself is truly a great step in the right direction. By being so active and interactive, it succeeds in encouraging exercise via fun games and tests. I particularly like the yoga, step aerobics, and the strength training. Joe is much better at the balance games than I am (haha, I know I'm a little clutzy). In any event, I'm really exciting to start tracking my progress with it and finding out if I do in fact get a little more "Fit." My weekend will probably involve a lot of playing with my new toy (thanks Mom and Dad!).

This weekend also kicks off preseason football with the Hall of Fame Game. Indianapolis plays Washington, but the real focus here is the induction of this year's Hall of Fame Class: Congratulations to Fred Dean, Darrell Green, Art Monk, Emmitt Thomas, Andre Tippett, and Gary Zimmerman. You can read more about their successful careers at

That's all from me today. Again, have a wonderful weekend and remember to think positive! Ciao!