photo of Kelly

The beginning and end photos from my 30-day DietBet. You can’t see much, if any, difference, but I can feel it!

Like so many women–and you know what? It’s not even a woman-thing. Like so many people, it is always my desire to just drop a few pounds. A month ago, I got back on the horse. I began going to the gym again three or four times a week. A couple of weeks ago, I figured out an alternative bike route to my office that is a little further but which I can ride in the same amount of time. I toned down some of my consumption habits. I joined a 30-day DietBet game.

Let’s start with the DietBet. For those of you unfamiliar, it’s a website where you pay money into a multi-person game to bet that you will be able to lose a certain amount of weight. You win by meeting the target, and the pot is split by everyone who made it. For the 30-day game I just completed, the goal was to lose 4%. For me, that was 8 pounds (3.6 kg). I’m not going to lie–I joined that particular DietBet because Karina Smirnoff was the host. You know how much I love Dancing with the Stars!

I went to the gym regularly for the first few months of last year and it felt great! I dislike running, but trotting on the treadmill has kind of become my thing since I discovered the Couch to 5K business two or three years ago. It only takes a couple of weeks for me to begin seeing and feeling the difference, so that’s my approach every time I start over. I fell off the wagon (er, treadmill?) when I went on vacation last July and spent the next three-quarters of a year subsidizing other people’s memberships. But my weight also crept up to the highest it’s ever been, and so finally last month I started going again and have managed to get back in the good habit.

Feeling the inspiration on foot, I also try to bike a little more, too. From about March through about October, or for as long as the snow holds off, I bike commute to work every day, a 15-minute ride through the heart of downtown. I don’t really think of it as exercise, even though it is, and so have been trying to go out for a long ride at least once on the weekends, and a medium ride in the evening every now and then if it’s not too hot.

Perhaps you are a fan of the NFL (National Football League) and know that the Minnesota Vikings are building a brand new stadium where the Metrodome stood until last year. I guess it’s going to resemble a giant, glass Viking ship. All I really know is that they didn’t spring for bird-safe glass. We’ll see how that plays out. The area of downtown adjacent to the stadium site is also going through a major redevelopment, and shiny new office buildings are rising from the backhoed rubble of a number of former surface parking lots.

Well. All of this construction activity has wreaked havoc on the very streets that I use every day in my commute. There are closures and detours which, unless I want to go significantly out of my way in one direction or, in the other direction, ride on a busy artery with cars only thinking about the freeway access a half mile ahead. Even the quieter alternative a couple of blocks beyond that is under its own construction of a sewer project. There is no good way to bike that particular vector.

Thus, I finally broke down and tried the route that takes me along the Mississippi River bike path to a bike commuter trail to the western suburbs. I can enter and exit within blocks of home and the office. I had balked at using it because it is a longer distance, and when I’m commuting, I’m all about not wasting time. But it turns out that, even though it’s 3.25 miles versus the 2.5 miles (5.2 km vs 4 km) of the downtown route, it doesn’t take me any more time because there are only a couple of interactions with streets and I don’t usually have to stop even once, and I can just go. Riding this route for the first time was an epiphany! It’s easier, it’s so much less stressful, it’s scenic, and the longer distance fits in with my increased activity desires.

photo of several meals

These are a few of the quick (usually about 30 minutes to prepare), delicious, home-cooked meals I’ve been making.

The final component of the last month has been to be more mindful of when and how much I’m consuming. For me, the largest part of that is to cut back on the beer. Instead of three or four, I try to keep it to a couple. And instead of my favorite double IPA or big stout, I often choose ones with lower alcohol content. Along with that is the realization that it also helps to eat a lighter supper earlier rather than later. Gorging on a burger at the bar is a whole lot different than freshly preparing a meal of more sensible foods (that I actually like better anyway). A staple has been a few ounces of salmon, a pile of asparagus, and one-half cup or less of a whole grain, such as quinoa or my new favorite, farro. I have resumed documenting everything that goes down my gullet in the Lose It! app. I don’t necessarily try to meet the calorie budget that it suggests, but the act of tracking eventually causes you to more carefully consider your choices.

So doing all of these things consistently for the last five weeks paid off. I surpassed my DietBet target and lost 8.8 pounds (4 kg), and won $49.68 on my $30 bet! My stamina has increased so much from the treadmill trotting and wobbly bits are coming a little more under control. Mainly, I just feel better and that is very satisfying. The knowledge that this happens when I keep up with things is what gets me through the afternoons when I’d rather just go home (okay, that, and that I’ve been watching 30 Rock while I trot to distract myself).

But it’s my desk-neighbor at work who put the extra little spring in my step today. She’s 23 and just out of college, where she was a competitive swimmer and is still someone who you would call an athlete. A couple of weeks ago I was moaning about being sore from my first session of strength training the day before and we had a brief conversation about my activities at the gym. Well, today she asked me how it all was going and was astonished when I said I had gone fourteen times last month. We talked a little more and I mentioned that I had lost about 7 pounds (3.2 kg). In response she uttered the five words at the top of the page and that is the most gratifying and motivating thing of all!

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Addendum: Because I want to keep the momentum going, I joined another DietBet game. This one goes on for six months with a final target of a 10% loss. There are monthly official weigh-ins with their own mini-targets, and you can win those, too. I tried one last year with little success, but I feel like I have a better attitude now. Stay tuned!

Every now and then I come across a meal that is, to my palate, a masterpiece. There have been two recently.

Beer & Beast at the Acadia: smoke Scotch egg and Oskar Blues Reeb Rye'd ale

Beer & Beast at the Acadia: smoke Scotch egg and Oskar Blues Reeb Rye’d ale

The first was a smoked scotch egg at one of my neighborhood joints, Acadia. Once a month they have what they call “Beer & Beast” for which they make a special meal, which usually involves the smoker out back, that they pair with a special beer. I was a little skeptical about a smoked scotch egg because breaded, fried food isn’t my bag, but they have a few hotshot young cooks in the kitchen and one bite in, my fears were allayed. The egg was excellent, the Oskar Blues Reeb Rye’d beer was excellent, and the two together sent me into nirvana.

Not too long after that, another neighborhood establishment, Town Hall Brewery, had their annual Barrel Aged Beer Week. They made some crazy and delicious fancy beers, releasing one per day throughout the week. I went in right away on Monday and learned that they developed some special food items to pair with the beers. I chose the seared scallops because I have a soft spot for scallops.

photo of scallops dinner

This was one amazing plate!

I’ll admit that I gave the plate a quite the side-eye when it arrived. The scallops with bacon-onion jam, farro with fire-roasted tomatoes, and grilled zucchini floated on a pool of white sauce. Okay. Maybe they wanted to visually fill out the plate or something. I reread the menu card. “Beurre blanc,” it said. “French for white sauce makes it sound fancier,” I interpreted.

My white-sauce snobbery quickly melted away as I tasted what an excellent carrier it was, helping to blend all of the the flavors together in a most excellent way. The tastes and textures balanced each other nicely, from the salt and crisp of the scallops and the sweet and smoke of the bacon-onion jam to the savory and chewy of the farro. Once again I found myself in my happy food place.

I had already been thinking that I’d try to return later in the week once more of the beers had been released. After eating I knew I would return, if only to have that delicious plate again!

In the meantime, I encountered a chef friend to whom I raved about this meal, including recounting my attitude about the “white sauce, well, beurre blanc.” What comes around goes around. He gave the side-eye right back to me without further explanation. After we parted, I became curious about this unfamiliar cooking term and looked it up. I stood corrected and publicly apologized to beurre blanc on social media. It is not white sauce. It is white, that’s true, but it’s actually an emulsification of butter in white wine that results in a sauce-like entity that is particularly complimentary to fish and seafood.

photo of beer flight

Town Hall Barrel Aged Week, flight 1: Foolish Angel, Buffalo Bock (2015), Twisted Trace (2015)

I went back to Town Hall on Thursday. That evening, there were enough of the special beers available so I ordered a flight. In case you’re wondering, the Foolish Angel was my favorite of the beers I tried. The general manager, Scot, who I got to know last year in a bowling league at one of Town Hall’s other locations, was flitting around so I was able to compliment him on it. He was pleased because it was a new beer this year.

photo of beer flight

Town Hall Barrel Aged Week, flight 2: Project 3106 (2015), Czar Jack (2015), Duke of Wallonia (2015)

But more importantly, I had the scallops dish again! Somebody different must have been in the kitchen, though, because the plate came out with at least twice as much beurre blanc, which was twice too much, and maybe a third less farro, which was a third too little. It was still as delicious as I remembered from three days earlier, though I did not come close to finishing all of the sauce. Then I decided to take the rest of it home with me for use at a later date, an endeavor made much easier by having exactly the right sized plastic container in my bag from my breakfast. (I always pack my breakfast and eat at my desk. Saves me fifteen to thirty minutes in the morning. Fifteen to thirty more minutes of sleep. But I digress.) I long ago got over feeling embarrassed about pulling out my own container at a restaurant in order to stow leftovers. Reduce, reuse, recycle.

That night as I lay in bed I had the ultimate brain wave. Along with the leftover beurre blanc, I had half of the ingredients necessary to recreate this meal at home. I had a zucchini, onions, bacon pieces, brown sugar, and sun-dried tomatoes. My mission was clear!

I located a recipe for bacon-onion jam that used only basic ingredients, read about how to pan-sear scallops, learned some more about beurre blanc, and purchased scallops and farro. I was ready to begin. The jam recipe is not at all fussy, it just needs and hour and a half of prep and cook time to get the reduction. I got that going first and enhanced the recipe with some dried currants for good measure. The farro was next. It needed about thirty minutes, and I included chopped sun-dried tomatoes. When the farro was done cooking, I finished it by frying it for a few minutes to crisp it up a bit; there had been something a little crispy about the Town Hall plate. As the jam and farro were finishing, I heated the pan for the scallops, getting the butter and oil nice and hot. While the scallops were searing, I reheated the leftover beurre blanc in the microwave, stirring frequently. I know, I know, I can hear you laughing from here. It was a visual disaster. The fat from the butter immediately separated into yellow oiliness, and the remaining part turned into a gloppy, viscous mess. But it still tasted heavenly and it all gets re-blended in your mouth, right?

photo of scallops dinner and beer

It doesn’t look the same as the professional version, but it tasted just about as delicious.

It was only after I had carefully plated my homemade meal with the goal of downplaying the physical appearance of the beurre blanc that I realized I had completely forgotten to make the zucchini. Oh well. With six rather than four scallops, it was plenty to consume.

The meal was delicious! I paired it with Summit Great Northern Porter. The bacon and the beer really brought out the smoky characteristics of each other.

I was very pleased with the effort!

photo of scallops dinner and beer

No Town Hall brews at home, but Summit Great Northern Porter was a fine stand-in.

Mostcaloriesbeercheese_blog

Coincidentally, on this weekend that we change years, I have ended up pondering two things that come up at this time of year–calories (ergo, dieting) and envisioning the future. Tonight we’ll address calories.

A couple of days ago, I dug through my cupboards in search of the food item that contained the highest number of calories per serving. I chose to abide by the serving size listed on the packages even though those are often quite different than what is actually consumed. Except for the brie.

For the most part, I don’t keep junk around. Several people had naughty desserts but the worst I thought I could do was olive oil. But that only has 126 calories per tablespoon serving. No, it turned out that the whole wheat spaghetti was the worst at 210 calories per serving. The only other dry foods I have are various beans, canned tomatoes, and sugar-free Jell-O.

That it was the spaghetti surprised me, but when I got into my refrigerator, there was nothing unexpected. I didn’t figure it would be butter (102 calories per tablespoon) or any of the various cheeses I keep around (100 calories per ounce, give or take). No, I knew the beer would be the biggest calorie offender.

I don’t mess around with these 55 or 64 calorie “beers.” I like the chewy stuff. Unfortunately, my beloved India pale ales pack a punch. They hover around or just under 200 calories per 12 ounces. My seasonal favorite, Celebration Ale by Sierra Nevada, checks in at 214. And my new favorite which I was introduced to at Thanksgiving, Three Philosophers by Ommegang, weighs in at a hefty 294 though, in its defense, it is 9.8% ABV.

Honorable mention does go to the brie cheese. A couple of weeks ago, I got a two-pound wheel on sale for $10. I only wanted one wedge, but when the wedges of other brands were anywhere from $5 to $7, it seemed silly not to go for the big wheel. So although an ounce is about 100 calories, I’ve not been wasting any time eating it up before it spoils, and each time I have some brie I also have some lower-fat Triscuits, seven of which are 120 additional calories. So for sheer consumption at the moment, the brie and crackers wins, regardless of what one actual serving is noted to be.

However, in the long run, it is beer that does me in. As an American woman, it is only natural for me to lament my too-large size. As a beer drinker, it is entirely within my power to do something about it—if only I didn’t love it so much and had more willpower.

I stopped making New Year’s resolutions long ago (the last two I remember were to eat my Five A Day and to never buy white underwear again) and I don’t intend to try to make one today. Every night I go to bed thinking that tomorrow I will exhibit moderation. Just about every day it doesn’t work out, and if it does it’s more by accident than by design.

So yes, tomorrow I shall endeavor to consume fewer calories, but not because of a New Year’s resolution. I will try because I know it would be good for me, and one of these days I  will accomplish it, and then I will accomplish it for a second day in a row, and then a third …

December 24, 2010, December 30, 2010

10thingshappy_tweak

This cup of grapefruit juice*

I like orange juice and tomato juice, but I love grapefruit juice!

This lovely sunny day*

It is the last day of February. On days like this, you believe that spring is truly right around the corner, even though it’s Minnesota and you know there could easily still be stretches of sub-freezing temperatures.

Watching my cat spaz out with the twirling rainbows on the wall*

I have solar powered twirling crystals in my south window. Poor Dasie just never figures it out.

Saving 10–15 minutes in the morning by neither combing nor drying my hair*

On February 13, I stopped both combing my hair and giving it the tiny bit of blow drying that I do, just to see what would happen. I am not in the early stages of dreadlocks and my curls twist up less frizzily and more curly. The only downside is that all day I shed the loose hairs that were formerly removed during combing. Having that ten or fifteen extra minutes is well worth it to me.

Classical music on a Sunday afternoon*

In my quest to watch less tv, I have returned to doing something I used to twenty years ago, which is turning on public radio in the morning and enjoying it as the backdrop to the whole day.

How it’s light so much earlier in the morning

I know the time change will soon come and darkness will get another hour of morning time, but for now I’ll enjoy that it’s light when I should be thinking about getting up. It has been light when I do get up all winter …

That my rabbit feels better after having his teeth trimmed a couple of weeks ago

The watery eye has cleared up and Robbin seems to be in a better mood. I can even pet his head, something which he had shied away from for years. Now I know why.

The thought of planning my trip to London

I really must make time to do my tax return so that I can get going on this.

Video chat

It has been very satisfying getting to see people who I would otherwise have no opportunity to interact with “in person.”

Coffee in a paper cup

I don’t know why it is, but I really love drinking coffee from a coffee shop paper cup.

*pictured above

 

Where I like to eat downtown

December 19, 2009

Tweak_frequentrestaurant

In the workaday world, sometimes you really just look forward to getting away from your desk to go get some food. Sometimes that food is breakfast grabbed on the way in. I have my favorite places in the skyway for meal procurement.

Overall, the place I most often frequent is The Brothers Deli, usually for breakfast, though sometimes I get lunch there. Their breakfasts are hardy and inexpensive. For $3.20, I get either the veggie wrap (two eggs scrambled and wrapped in a tortilla with cheese, mushrooms, bell peppers, onions, and salsa; I liberate it from the tortilla), or scrambled eggs with bacon and toast. A small cup of the most delicious fresh-squeezed orange juice is included with either. For lunch, I like their house salad which is sort of like a chicken chef salad. The sandwiches are also pretty tasty. They fly the pastrami in from New York City.

I used to go to Potbelly a lot until I paid attention to what sodium bombs the sandwiches are. Their salads are also good.

My other most-frequented lunch spot is Asian Max. It’s another one of those heap-of-vaguely-Asian-food-for-a-decent-price places, but I feel like they use nicer, fresher ingredients. My usual fare is sesame chicken with two of three spicy green beans, cucumber salad or spring roll. It’s always service with a smile.

Coming in third is sushi. I like it best from Kikugawa but they’re also the most expensive, so sometimes I go to either of a couple of other fast sushi counters. Of course none of it is as good as if you were sitting in an actual restaurant, but it will do.

I have discovered that I really like using chopsticks.

Water, running

November 5, 2009

Blog_waterworldgraph

Since June 1, 2008, I have drunk 67,522 ounces of water. How do I know this? Because I keep track and measure up on a nifty little site called zeaLOG (shout out!). I didn’t set out to be a compulsive grapher of my water consumption (or any of the other things I keep track of there); it just happened.

My mom is always telling me, “Your grandfather would be so proud of how much water you drink!” (He was never proud of how I braked the car when he was riding along.) Although he was a big advocate of water drinking, I doubt he had in mind the quantities that I accomplish.

The most water I’ve ever drunk in one 24-hour period is 248 ounces. That’s right, two gallons (almost) of the universal solvent. I managed this feat twice in the past summer, on July 5th and September 6th. The zeaLOG also allows me to notice my trend of consumption over the course of a year. In the hot summer months I average almost a gallon and a half per day. In the cold winter months that drops to about three-quarters of a gallon. It’s a lovely little sine wave.

(Sorry for the delay—I was having a drink of water.)

I do not prefer ice, and I’m not picky about what kind of water it is or whether it’s cold. Plain old tap water is just fine, though at home I do have a carbon filter on my kitchen faucet. I keep two half-gallon pitchers ready in my refrigerator. That way I feel like I’m conserving the filter by not turning it on for each individual glassful. The literature that comes with the filter says it’s smart enough to wear out based on a combination of times used and quantity filtered. I don’t believe it.

I do the actual drinking in 24-ounce increments and for the sake of logging, I always finish a glass, even if I have to chug most of it. But often I do that anyway. Lately, I’ve developed the new habit of making sure that I drink a glassful as soon as I get up in the morning. It honestly helps me feel better as I start my day. I usually get up during the night, at which times I work on a glassful which usually is finished by the time I arise in the morning. After my shower, I drink a small 8-ounce glassful to wash down my multivitamin and calcium supplement. So by the time I leave for work, I’ve had 56 ounces since I went to bed. I have the same 24-ounce cup at work, where I don’t like to drink fewer than two during the day; three is better. I take a 24-ounce repurposed Diet Coke bottleful with me to work out. That gets polished off during the 45 minutes I’m there.

I break out of the 24s when I go to bowling. Then, I pack a green, 32-ounce Nalgene bottle. A couple of years ago I had the unoriginal idea to make an ice plug in the bottom of the bottle so the water would stay cold. In the winter, I freeze 200 milliliters. In the summer, 300. That’s just about right for the two-and-a-half or three hours the bottle is in service. Shall we talk about a huge advantage to drinking a lot of water while bowling? That’s right, I feel less fuzzy the next day from the beer if I’ve also kept up with the water. If I can finish a second Nalgene during the evening, I know things won’t be as bad in the morning. As I pay attention to the trend, I see it works best if I roughly match water ounces to beer ounces.

(Just a sec, I’ll be right back.)

You may wonder if I am always running for a ladies’ room because of all the water that goes into me. No, not always. Oh, I know I go more than the average person, but I am beyond thinking about it. The benefit is worth it. Okay, it’s inconvenient if, say, I’m in the middle of the row at a Minnesota Twins game, however my need to excuse myself in that situation is just as likely to be because of all the fresh, cold Summit Extra Pale Ale that I’ve been enjoying. And buying another one. But I digress.

When I travel, I have to pay attention to the situation. On driving trips it sometimes gets tricky because I like to stay off the interstate as much possible, and U.S. and state highways don’t have the same shiny, fancy rest areas—or any, usually. And if you stop at a gas station or fast food joint, you do feel as though you should make a purchase in exchange for the use of their facilities. Yes, I’ve been known to buy just one banana. In England, the 20 pence coin quickly became my good friend.

(Time to refill my glass.)

Try taking a big drink when you get up for the next couple of days. See if you don’t think it helps you feel just a little bit fresher.