Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dining Out Challenge

Since the holidays have ended, I’m back to my strict low-carb eating regimen.  I am in withdrawal – even though I have been a low-carb aficionado for the majority of 2011, it still hits me hard whenever I fall off the wagon and then make the effort to climb back on it.  A little too much champagne, a little too much wine, lots of goodies (though comparatively low-carb, they still had carbs!), and BOOM!  I need to detox.

And so I’m detoxing.  I am keeping a carb journal and recording my thoughts and struggles and hopes and fears.  I am subscribing to self-help guru philosophy and writing little notes to myself to look at in my office.  I review my “look book” so I can stay focused on wanting smaller trousers instead of the pumpkin brownies my husband is engulfing.

Speaking of husbands, he is sick with a head cold and is need of TLC.  I ran out to CVS and purchased supplies: lotioned-tissue, Dayquil and Nyquil, a 7-Up, and some ice cream.  My husband has an enviable body fat ratio and muscle development, so a few sugary carbs over the next couple of days will not harm him.

I’m worried about their presence in the house for me.  I don’t think I’m going to be tempted to indulge, but just knowing they are there is a wee bit torturous.  Keep reviewing the look book!

As a treat, we went to our favorite low-cost burger place in Austin – P. Terry’s.  I’ve been eating my double-cheeseburgers wrapped in lettuce all year, so buns are not my weakness.  It’s the fries, and the fries at P. Terry’s are what fries should be: thin, skin on, and greasy.  Oh, so greasy.  And the siren’s song of fountain Diet Coke is difficult for me to resist.  So sticky, so bubbly, so sweet (with poisonous ingredients). 

Enter the tired look book and those horrid notes I wrote to myself.  I must say, though, that:

Benefit 1:  I did not drink a diet soda.  I drank water and refilled my cup twice.

Water - the low-carber's best friend

A lettuce-wrapped burger from P. Terry's
Benefit 2:  I had ten little fries; not fifty.  I made myself count to “30” between each bite.  Luckily, the husband stuffs them in his mouth so the availability of salty, greasy, hot fries disappeared from my hungry eyes with joyous rapidity.

And now that I’m home, out of the fries fray, I really am happy that I didn’t sabotage my efforts too badly.  I’m making a huge salad for dinner with baby greens, crispy pancetta, leftover turkey and an easy vinaigrette.

What challenges are you facing as you gear up to “detox” from the holidays?  Do you write notes to yourself or journal when you are re-starting an eating regimen?  What’s your food weakness?


Monday, December 26, 2011

Holiday Dessert: Buche de Noel

Merry Christmas, SFF readers!  I hope your holiday was celebrated the way you desired.

I made a terrifice buche de noel for our Christmas dessert.  Not only was it fabulous, but it was sugarless and flourless, too.  You can find the recipe at the Nourished Kitchen, but you will need to use your own judgment in how you substitute the recipe's cane sugar with Truvia or Splenda.  As I posted last week, Truvia has a higher sweetness rating than sugar, and the sugar in this recipe is used only for sweetening purposes compared to other baking recipes.  Be sure to use a high-quality cocoa - the beauty of this dessert is the focus on the chocolate instead of any sweetness factor!


Friday, December 23, 2011

Sugarless Holiday Treats

Just because you've decided you no longer want sugar in your life doesn't mean you can't enjoy some cheery holiday sweetness.

Are you missing your holiday Bailey's or Kahlua with coffee and cream? Both liqueurs are full of sugar so if you're following a sugar-free regimen, they are off limits.

Instead, make yourself a good old-fashioned Irish Coffee.

I brew a small pot of decaf coffee, pour 1.5 ounces of Bushmills Irish Whisky (you can use whatever whisky you prefer) into a big mug and add 1 teaspoon of Truvia, a stevia based sugar substitute then add the coffee and stir.

To top it off, I make a batch up homemade whipped cream flavored with a tiny bit of high quality vanilla extract and a little Truvia. I don't like my cream very sweet, so I use sweetener sparingly.

If you don't want to bother with making whipped cream, buy a can. But be sure to check that it only has one carb/sugar gram per serving.

Put a few dollops of the whipped cream on top of your special coffee, cozy up in front of your holiday tree or fireplace, and enjoy a tasty and comforting holiday beverage that won't send your blood sugar levels soaring and will warm your cockles...whatever those are.


I don't miss holiday cookies, fudge and the like one bit. I like sweets, but now that I know how sugar makes me feel and look, it's a no-brainer for me to leave them all for someone else to enjoy.

What I do miss are those lovely sugar and spice nuts. I am sucker for anything that has both a little sweetness and a little saltiness. And if it's crunchy to boot? Watch out!

I perused a few different recipes and found a way to make sugar and spice nuts, sans the sugar. Be warned: these won't last long in your house. I made these two days ago, and the entire batch is gone.

"Sugar" and Spice Holiday Nuts 

3/4 cup raw, whole almonds
3/4 cup raw, halved walnuts
3/4 cup raw, halved pecans
1 egg white, whipped lightly with a fork
3 tablespoons Splenda brown sugar*
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
A dash of cayenne (optional)

Heat oven to 300 degrees. Cover a jelly roll pan 15 x 10 x 1 with foil or parchment paper or spray with cooking oil.

Combine the nuts in a large bowl and coat well with the egg white. In another small bowl, combine the Splenda with cinnamon, salt and cayenne. Sprinkle the 'sugar' mix over the nuts and toss to coat.

Spread the mixture evenly onto the pan and bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, stirring every ten minutes.

Remove from pan onto waxed paper to cool. Enjoy!

Store what's left over in a jar with a tight fitting lid. I like to chop them up and add them to a green salad with goat cheese and a tangy vinaigrette.

*I like a subtly sweet and salty flavor and used small amounts of Splenda and salt. For sweeter nuts, up the Splenda to 1/3 cup and the salt to 2 teaspoons. 

Happy Holidays! 


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sick of salad yet?

It's that time of year!

Welcome to winter.  If you can’t fathom the idea of one more salad, let me remind you that the oven and the roasting pan are a low-carber’s best friend.  I don’t own a crock pot, and am not in a frame of mind to go purchase one at the moment, so I am sticking to eating roasted meals for the duration of the season!

My short list for this winter includes a weekly rotation of
·         Roast chicken that’s been stuffed with onion, garlic, lemon and thyme
·         Roast turkey breast roulade, stuffed with sausage, wild mushrooms and celery
·         Brisket with stewed tomatoes and…stop, you had me at “brisket”
·         Roast mahi mahi that’s been wrapped in thinly-sliced pancetta

After you have roasted your protein of choice, do not omit the final step: creating a reduction sauce from the yummy pan juices and bits.  Remove the beast, put your pan on the stove, add a splash of chicken broth or wine (or both), scrape the pan until it comes together, add a small bit of butter, taste for seasoning, and you have sauce.

I like these roasted meals because I can also multi-task the oven with a baking sheet teaming with green beans, mushrooms and red peppers, and I have dinner cooked for a couple of days.  These are “company worthy” meals for your guests who are not low-carb eaters, and all you need to do is add some steamed rice to round out the meal for them. 


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Low Carb Chili

Like most people, during the fall and winter months I gravitate to warm and comforting foods. A crock of hot chili topped with minced onions, a rich dollop of sour cream and shredded cheddar cheese and a green salad is one of my favorite cold weather meals.

This recipe is adapted from my mother's. She would make a big batch of it on a fall or winter Sunday and freeze what was left to serve later...that is, if there was anything left to freeze.

My mom wrote down my favorite
recipes of hers many years ago.
Can you tell I've used this one a few times? 

I exchanged the two cans of red kidney beans for one can of black soy beans. At 8 carbohydrates and 7 grams of fiber per serving, they are a great low carb alternative to traditional chili beans. I don't like to eat lots of soy, but I do like to have beans in my chili so I throw a can in for texture and fiber's sake.

My mom uses one green bell pepper in her recipe and I upped it to two for mine. I also added extra garlic. Feel free to use less if you want.

Low Carb Chili

1.5 pounds organic ground beef (you may also use ground turkey)
2 green bell peppers, diced
2 medium yellow onions, diced (about 2 cups)
6 cloves of garlic, minced
2 - 15 ounce cans of diced tomatoes*
2 - 15 ounce cans of tomato sauce*
3 to 4 tablespoons mild chili powder
1 - 15 ounce can of black soy beans, rinsed
2 bay leaves
salt to taste
hot sauce to taste - if desired

In a large dutch oven or soup pot, brown the beef along with the onions, garlic and bell pepper on medium to medium-high heat.

Once the meat is browned, add the rest of the ingredients, except for the hot sauce. Stir well, reduce heat to simmer and cover for two hours, stirring every 20 or 30 minutes.

After two hours, remove the cover, and add hot sauce and salt and stir. Let simmer uncovered for 45 minutes.

Remove bay leaves and serve with cheddar cheese, onions and sour cream, or any desired low carb topping.

*always check labels at the market for the lowest sugar and carbohydrate content. 


Monday, December 19, 2011

Sugar Substitutes

One of the tenets of our eating regimens is the absolute shunning of sugar.  Sugar is the devil.  I don’t just mean that poetically; it really does wreck havoc on your body – and I don’t just mean weight gain.  There are plenty of outwardly thin people running around who eat gummy bears, so there is not a one-to-one correlation that sugar consumption leads to excess body fat.  However, there are numerous studies providing evidence that sugar has a negative reaction on your body’s organs and molecular structure.  By now, we should all know that just because you are thin doesn’t mean you are healthy, and being healthy is our primary goal.

Unrefined honey, pure maple syrup/sugar, and agave are terrific, natural sweeteners if you are not trying to lose excess body fat, and they should be enjoyed in moderation after you have reached your body fat percentage goals.  My husband regularly enjoys coconut-flour brownies made with a combination of these sweeteners, and he has been liberated from sugar-rushes and sugar-crashes.  Also, pure honey and maple syrup are loaded with antioxidants, but you must, MUST use the pure varieties.  If it's cheap, it's garbage.

For those of us still in the fat-loss phase, there are four widely available refined sugar substitutes that can aid your endeavor to rid sugar from your meals:

·         Aspartame (Equal or NutraSweet)
·         Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low)
·         Sucralose (Splenda)
·         Stevia (Truvia, Pure Via)

There are so many great articles, and a bunch of nonsense, on sugar substitutes.  I’m going to let you read the articles written by people who have a scientific background greater than my own and let you decide.

I will share my personal, anecdotal evidence.

The only sugar substitute I do not use is aspartame.  I don’t think this is by choice so much as it is because aspartame is not an ingredient in anything I wish to eat.  While there is no hard evidence linking aspartame to cancer, birth defects, and such, there is strong anecdotal evidence that many people have severe headaches, insomnia, get dizzy, or just feel “icky”.  I ate a ton of fat-free, flavored yogurt in my 20’s and never felt dizzy nor had insomnia, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t doing low-level damage to my internal system.

Regarding saccharin, I confess to a weekly indulgence in a diet soda and sugar-free jello.  I haven’t found that saccharin increases my cravings above normal, but then I’m not a very good journaler who tracks her cravings trajectories at certain points in the day.  According to Dr. Atkins, caffeine is also a stimulator of sweet cravings.  I have small doses of caffeine through the week (maybe two cups of coffee…) and still would shove my husband and small children out of the way if Ina Garten was at the door with a trayfull of her Outrageous Brownies.   I’m drinking decaf green tea right now and could still inhale the brownies.

(maybe I should try giving up sugar substitutes for a two-week period and seeing if cravings are still there)

The next sugar-substitute of choice is sucralose, which is marketed as Splenda.  Sucralose is one of the first sugar substitutes to be derived from sugar itself, and is deemed a reasonable substitute by nutritionists according to the December 2011 issue of Women’s Health.  If you are on the Atkins regimen, you will notice Splenda as a suggested substitute for sugar in many, many recipes.  While I do use Splenda to add a touch of sweetness to whipped cream (½ of a packet to ½ cup of cream), I do not like large amounts of it.  In small doses, I do not experience any stomach upset.  In large doses, I do not fare so well.  My mother went through a phase in which she made cobblers, cakes, and pies with sucralose and the aftermath on my digestive system was unpleasant.  For days.

The last sugar substitute and the most buzz-worthy is stevia.  You can find stevia on its own or under the brand names of Truvia or Pure Via.  I’ve noticed the little packets in local cafes and on the shelves of Whole Foods in elixir form.  Stevia is a bit of an enigma because it hasn’t gone through rigorous testing, but it is billed as being a natural alternative to the others because it is derived from the stevia plant rather than a chemical byproduct of sugar.   In addition, some nutritionists and scientists are positing that stevia may have a positive impact on our internal systems compared to merely mitigating a bad insulin response like the other substitutes do.  I have not been a wide user of stevia, but I’m leaning more in the direction of it being my go-to substitute when I don’t want to use agave, raw honey or maple syrup.

Remember, sugar substitutes do contain carbs and you will need to count them toward your total if you are tracking.  Also, sweeteners – no matter what variety – should be used sparingly and in moderation. 


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Low-carb on the Go

In my perfect life, I prepare a low-carb snack or lunch the night before I'm to go to work or spend the day running errands. I wash and slice some of my favorite fresh vegetables, and pack up several slices of organic oven-roasted turkey and Jarlsberg cheese (full-fat, of course). Perhaps I'll include a few big Spanish olives. And for a snack, I'll bring a small container of raw walnuts and a piece of Dove sugar-free dark chocolate.

But I don't have a perfect life. And I don't always prepare. Sometimes I dillydally so much in the morning (a.k.a. catching up on my favorite blogs), I barely have enough time to remember to bring my work bag or to-do list.

It's not easy to eat on the go when you're first starting a low-carb way of living. In this starchy world in which we live, high-carbohydrate and high-sugar convenience meals are everywhere. They're practically available on every street corner.

Low-carb meals aren't as easy to find. You may think if you don't prepare ahead of time, you'll have to choose between suffering hunger pangs all day or giving in to the carbs, but you don't. You have options. Lots of them.

Here are some tips to help you hunt down your favorite low-carbohydrate foods while on the go:

~ Your better local grocery stores usually have a salad bar. Make a salad using your favorite toppings. Add cheese, bacon bits, avocado, chopped egg and sunflowers seeds for added satiation. If the dressings at your salad bar don't have nutritional labels, go for blue cheese dressing or red wine vinaigrette. It's wise to taste them first for sugar; you know how that little devil likes to hide in all sorts of prepared foods. If the choices look suspect, choose olive oil and vinegar with a dash of salt and pepper.

~ Where I live, we are lucky enough to have not one, but two In 'n Out Burger restaurants, a California institution known for their tasty, fresh and high-quality burgers.

After years of being on Atkins, I finally mastered the ideal low carb way to order a burger. Ask for:

"A double- double", which is two beef patties with two slices of American cheese
"Protein® Style", no bun (yep, they trademarked it)
"mustard only", no ketchup and no full-of-sugar special sauce.
The tomato and onion options are up to you. I usually skip the tomato and go for raw onions.

If you don't have an In 'n Out where you live, try a Five Guys or another fast food burger joint in your area. Ask if they have a bun-less version of their cheeseburger.

~ Find a place that sells food to-go: pre-packaged or made-to-order. Choose a Caesar (hold the croutons), chef, Greek or Cobb salad. If you have time, take a load off and dine at your favorite restaurant. That's what my husband and I did yesterday. Here's his gorgeous Cobb salad.

~ At the deli counter, order a few slices of roast beef or turkey and a couple slices of cheese. If they carry them, order a dill pickle, a container of olives or pickled peppers. They might even have sliced bell peppers and other vegetables you can ask for as sides.

~ If you only need a quick snack to get you through until your next meal, pick up a single string cheese and a small bag of almonds or macadamia nuts at a convenience store or gas station.

~ I'm not in favor of regularly relying on low-carb bars and shakes. They are usually full of artificial ingredients and don't taste that great either. But if you are really in a pinch, buy an Atkins low-carb bar. They carry them at Target, Safeway, and Walmart.

Get to know what low-carb foods your local markets, convenience stores, big box stores, delicatessens and even your gas stations carry so you're never left with an empty stomach or tempted by a high-carb convenience meal.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Mourning High-Glycemic Carbs

You’ve read the low-carb books and seen the dramatic before-and-after pictures.  You dive in and embrace bacon and coffee with cream.  And then it hits you.  “I’m not going to be eating buttered toast with cinnamon and sugar anymore.”  And you are depressed.

Let’s recognize that we will be mourning the disappearance of big, fat carbs from our lives.  Some of you may be able to reincorporate them in your life, but many of us will not.  And the sooner you come to terms with it the better.

I made a list:

·         Toast with high-quality butter; also, crumpets with butter and jam with tea
·         Pina coladas
·         Salted caramel mocha frappucino
·         Fettucini alfredo
·         Bucatini with anything
·         Yorkshire pudding
·         Rice pudding
·         Chocolate pudding
·         Basically, all pudding

Now, make another list of food you thought you couldn’t eat but now eat with relish:

·         Bacon
·         Cream in coffee
·         Hollandaise sauce over grilled fish
·         Beurre blanc sauce over grilled chicken
·         Guacamole, guacamole, guacamole
·         Boeuf bourguignon
·         Chili with a dollop of sour cream
·         Berries and cream – whipped or otherwise
·         Buttered green beans
·         Butter on everything

The above list is thoroughly enjoyed with smaller thighs and waist.

I don’t sit and pine for the days of buttered toast because I now know that the low-level of perpetual bloat I lived with was keeping me from enjoying a life free of intestinal discomfort and arthritis in my knee.  Hmmm…buttered toast, or springing from a step into the car without a twinge of pain. 

I don’t crave things I can no longer eat because I’m mentally superior or more mature; I just do not miss my body on toast.

If you are crying at the thought of the foods you are no longer eating this holiday season, especially if you are forced to sit next to a thin relative stuffing crescent rolls in their mouth, I suggest taking a walk by yourself or grabbing an hour alone where you can make a list of the food you are mourning. 

Look at it, acknowledge it, and come to terms with reality. 

And then make that second list of new foods you will be embracing and enjoying.  Don’t forget a third list: how much better your body feels without those toxic foods polluting your ability to live a real life.


Water: your new hobby

One of the things that I’m always surprised about on re-starting a low-carb eating regimen (we do not say four-letter words like “diet”) is how much water leeches out of your system during the first few days.  Like a porous rock swollen with ice in the winter, it takes nothing more than a stretch of ketosis (“spring thaw”) to see how much water a human body retains in order to process all those carbs you were storing for primordial winter fuel.

It is important to drink lots of water when you start a low-carb regimen.  You need to get as much retained water out of your body, and the only sensible way to do so is to drink lots.  This naturally results in many, many, many trips to the bathroom.  Yes, you will be getting up in the middle of the night for the first few days as your body rids itself of retained water.  Yes, you will want to make a note of where the bathrooms are if you are in unfamiliar territory for an offsite meeting or sports event.

And lo, he said that pretzels wouldst make us thirsty.

The other surprising development is how thirsty you become.  This is not the same thirst induced by eating a package of salty pepperoni or pretzels – that desperate, cottonmouth feeling.  This is a deep thirst that you know only water can satisfy: not coffee, not a diet soda, not even the juice you may be missing.  It’s for water, and water only.

I love the irony of drinking water to relieve your body of edema, of drinking water to get rid of the nasty bloating feeling in your stomach, and drinking water to replace the noxious toxins which your body is slowly but surely ridding itself.

So, how much water to drink?  How do you balance drinking enough water with drinking too much water?  Drinking too much water can leech good things out of your system, like electrolytes.  This syndrome is known as overhydration, and can potentially result in serious health consequences.  You can read about it on Wikipedia here.  You want to avoid overhydration, the least of which causes fatigue (not enough salt in your body) and may require medical intervention.

Yikes!  Okay, don’t be scarred.  Unless you really are obsessive and drink two gallons of water per day, it is unlikely you will need medical intervention.

First, how much to drink:  I use the following formula:
1.     Drink 64 ounces
2.     For every 25 pounds I am overweight, drink an additional 8 ounces
3.     For every hour of physically demanding activity (gym, mowing lawn), drink an additional 8 ounces

Second, monitor your drinking.  I purchased a BPA-free water bottle that holds 24 liquid ounces.  My water bottle is filled (and emptied) everyday in accordance with the above formula. 

And it really is that easy.  So, embrace your appropriate water consumption, and you will be on your way to embracing a smaller, healthier, more hydrated you!


Monday, December 12, 2011

Chicken, Broccoli and Curry Casserole

Several years ago, I tasted a broccoli in curry-cream sauce dish that a friend made for a potluck. I liked it instantly and hounded her incessantly for the recipe until she gave it to me.

As soon as I got my hands on the recipe, I started making it for my family. Over time, I've created my own variation by adding shredded chicken breasts and sharp cheddar to make an interesting and flavorful main dish that is simple, satisfying and low carb.

Chicken, Broccoli and Curry Casserole 

4 organic chicken breast, cooked and shredded.
1 to 2 bunches of broccoli, steamed and chopped (I cook two bunches and I cook them until done, not crisp)
2 cups of full-fat mayonnaise
1 cup of full-fat  organic sour cream
1/4 - 1/3 cup dry white wine or the juice of one lemon
3 to 8 tablespoons of curry (make yours to taste. I use 8 because I like a strong curry flavor)
A couple dashes of cayenne - optional
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Coat a 9" x 13" casserole dish with cooking oil spray. Throw in the shredded chicken and chopped broccoli and mix with your hands to combine.

In a medium bowl combine the mayonnaise, sour cream, wine, curry and cayenne. Mix well. Start with 1/4 cup of wine. The consistency should be saucy, but not too thick to pour. Add more wine if it's too thick and more mayonnaise if it's watery.

Pour the mixture over the broccoli and chicken and stir enough to cover evenly. Don't over mix.

Sprinkle cheese over the top and place in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes, checking after 20. The casserole is ready when the cheese is melted and the edges are turning a little brown.

This is great make-ahead meal. And you don't have to worry about a side-dish vegetable because it's already in there. Make a simple salad and you're set for dinner.

It's a good idea to make an extra dish for leftovers. Trust me: you and your family won't mind eating this casserole again the next night.