Watching our girlish figure

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A little while ago, Ray decided he was going on a diet.  He was not happy with his body and decided to change it.  I jumped at the chance for two reasons:

1.)  I’m a firm believer that all you have is your health.  Money, people, and things come and go, but your health sticks with your forever and decides your future more than anything else.

2.)  I like the challenge of making tasty meals that are both healthy and something he will still eat, because he’s a picky eater.

My first step in overhauling our diet was to cut out red meat.  Not entirely, because even I, little miss former vegetarian, enjoys a good medium-rare steak now and then.  But in our everyday diet, I say our red meat consumption has gone down around 80%.  I substituted ground turkey for ground beef and it does just fine.  We primarily eat chicken, pork, and fish.

The second step is to get rid of excess sugars and snacks.  No more cookies.  No more pop (even if I really miss Coca Cola).  This wasn’t so hard.

The next step is cutting corners.  You don’t have to solely eat skinny salads and drink ice water to lose weight.  Little changes and substitutions can make a world of good, though that’s not to say it should be your only plan of attack.  Using 98% fat-free canned soups (as I am prone to using in the Winter), using less or no butter, even cutting out a single egg yolk (while leaving the white) in an omelette can make a difference.

The last step is more vegetables. They are so much better for you and the amount most American’s eat is disappointing.  I find them immensely delicious and preferable to meat.  Ray does not quite agree.  This one was a touch tougher.  Ray likes veggies, but the list of veggies he likes is a shorter one.  Sending veggies in his lunch was not well received, so we went and picked up a case of V8 in individual cans up at Sam’s Club.  Two servings of veggies in each can.  Plus it’s tasty.  The only sad part is Ray insisted they be for lunches alone, and not to be enjoyed in the house.

I’ve been thinking of other ways to rebuild our diet, and my mind sprung to a more Asian-styled diet.  It’s no secret I love traditional Japanese (and Chinese) cuisine.  They are often complex meals with lean protein and lots of vegetables.  Ideal for many people watching their waistline.  The drawback is the sodium.  Ray is also watching his sodium intake for medical reasons so I have to keep that in mind too.

I gravitate towards the Japanese-styled diet because the health benefits are apparent.  The Japanese are some of the most long-lived people of the world, and their culture places emphasis on fresh ingredients and seasonal dishes.  The food is visually appealing with plenty of umami.   It is delicious and good for you, holistically speaking.  In the spirit of the theme, I want to cook more fish and use less boxed ingredients when making my meals.

My work has paid off, and Ray lost ten pounds, which he was pleased about.  It emboldens me and makes me think of how to shape up favorites so that they are healthier.  My next big project is gumbo.  I love gumbo, especially after having some at my friend Rochelle’s house in Virginia, courtesy of her step-dad.  Yet gumbo is laden with calories and salt.  I need to make it so that it is both delicious but waist-conscious.  It can be done.  I know it and I will find a way.  I will post pictures of the results, along with a rough nutritional estimate.

So expect tasty but trimmer recipes in the future!

Best Wishes!

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One of my favorite Youtube channels of all time is Cookingwithdog.  The entire channel focuses on popular and traditional Japanese food.  I eagerly await the bi-weekly update so I can learn more about my favorite cuisine.  I love Francis’ accent and Chef’s skill.  I have learned a lot from watching and it has fostered my love of Japanese cooking.

Six days ago, however, the person who manages the Cookingwithdog channel posted a bulletin, saying that Chef has been involved in an accident in the Tokyo suburbs and had to be taken by helicopter to the ICU.  She is in stable condition, but she still sustained serious injuries.

So I just wanted to send my best wishes to Chef and all the crew!  Please get better, Chef!  We look forward to your return!

A New Chapter

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So about that blurb in my last post.  The part where I said Ray had been whispering in Santa’s ear.  Well, Santa came through, last Wednesday.

You see, As much as I adore my little Canon point-and-shoot (and it really is a darling piece of machinery for its intended purpose), I had had a chance to play with Ray’s mom’s Nikon D5000.  I took maybe ten pictures with it, but it was immediately apparent how different a point-and-shoot and a dSLR really are.  And so I began slobbering over these pricey pieces of machinery.

Ray realized it, and left a voicemail for Santa.  Santa called him back and said he wouldn’t be able to get it here on time for Christmas, but he would have it shortly thereafter.  And sure enough, the Wednesday after Christmas, my baby arrived.  Thank you, Ray Santa.

Behold, my camera:

Yes, I know, crappy photo.  It was a quick shot with my iPhone 4s under crummy lighting.

So I began fiddling with it.  There is a massive difference in operations between a point-and-shoot and a dSLR.  So.  Many. Buttons.  After some trial shots, and some major learning, I started to take some nicer shots.

This is one picture out of the results.


Look at those sesame seeds!  Look at the individual grains of rice!  Look at the gorgeous bokeh in the background!

Be still my heart.  Ray isn’t getting a Valentine’s Day card this year, because I’m giving it to my camera.  I’ll probably take it out to dinner, too.

And so begins a new chapter of my food blog, in which I take pictures of everything.

Returned Triumphant (or not)

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My poor blog.  It’s been neglected and abandoned, left to whither.  I swear it is not something I did on purpose, but rather my blog was a victim of circumstance.

But I’m back.  I had planned on my very first entry being on macarons.  Macarons are the new cupcake.  Or rather, macarons are cupcakes’ cranky, fussy younger sister.  They are in vogue right now in all the foodie circles, with pictures all over FoodGawker whispering a challenge: make me.

I had seen a blogger dub the macaron the cookie that will make your hair go white.  Jesus, isn’t that the truth.  Until now, I never ran into anything I couldn’t bake to perfection.  This…this “cookie” has stumped me not once, but four times.  Hell, even Ray gave it a shot only to have the exact same problem as myself.

Look at this!

All of my macarons met similar fates.  Cracking, collapsing, no feet.  It was a disaster, and I seriously considered just giving up.

Ray convinced me to keep at it, because he’s positive I can get it.

So hopefully the next post I make is a triumphant picture of perfect macarons.

Also, Ray has apparently been whispering in Santa’s ear.  It means good things for this blog.  😀

In Memory

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As I’ve mentioned in my “About Me” section, I fully credit my grandmother, Norma Helisek, as the one person who perked my interest in cooking.  She taught me her skill, gave me her recipes, encouraged my interest, and formed memories I will always cherish in the tiny kitchen of her home.  She was a mother-figure to me for many years.  I spent summers and weekends at her house, cleaning (as she was in very ill health the last five years of her life), cooking, watching her soap operas (her “stories”) and playing rounds of bingo with her and my brother.  She was stubborn, a bit abrasive, commanding, but incredibly loving.  I took care of her in the last couple years of her life, as she took care of me for much of mine.  She meant more to me than any other soul on this earth.

It is baking that reminds me of her.  She was always making pies, cookies, cakes, and so forth.  One of my fondest memories was me and her sitting at her kitchen table while she instructed me on how to make chocolate chip cookies.  She just sat in her chair, reading off the recipe to me while I mixed it up, spooned it out, baked them, cooled them, and then she and I poured ourselves a glass of milk, and we ate some cookies together.

Little did I know at the time she was in the advanced stages of liver cancer.  She didn’t tell my brother or myself, and I wouldn’t know it until after she had passed.  She sought to protect us from an ugly reality that would shortly thereafter put her through agonizing pain, then take her from us.

To this day, I associate chocolate chip cookies with my grandma.

She passed away five years ago today, after a long battle with emphysema, liver cancer, and an aging body that was slowly failing.

I got home from work and sat at my computer, thinking of the various issues on my mind when my thoughts came to rest on my grandmother, and the anniversary of her passing.  I thought of her, all our memories, all the things she taught me, and how much I loved her.  I stood up and went to my kitchen, where I had spent the day baking batches of cookies for Christmas, among those batches chocolate chip cookies.  I took one from the bag, sat back down on the couch, took a bite out of a chocolate chip cookie, and started to cry.

I miss her something terrible.  Five years later, I still get choked up thinking about her, because I love her so much.  She helped make me into the woman I am today.  She taught me many things.  She was a major pillar of my life.

I think I’ll spend today baking, in memory of her.

In Loving Memory

Norma Jean Helisek

May 23, 1934 – December 19, 2005


The Cornucopia Project!

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A while back I was contacted by Schaefer and Tiffany of The Guerrilla Gourmet, asking if I would like to represent West Virginia in a compilation of Thanksgiving Day recipes, experiences, and memories.  How could I turn that down?  I replied that of course, I would love to represent West Virginia, and after a little bit of e-mail tag, things were smoothed out.

For The Cornucopia Project, I submitted my mashed potato recipe.  You can view my submission to the project, and the project as a whole, HERE over at the Guerrilla Gourmet!

Oh! Update!

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I forgot to post this, but it’s relevant.

I wrote a post a while back about my crummy camera and how much I wanted to replace it.  Well, that hasn’t change, but I did find a gem in an unexpected place.

Mat’s mom gave him a digital camera some years ago after she replaced it with a better one.  It’s nothing special.  A small black Samsung point-and-shoot, 5MP, etc.  I decided to play around with it to see if it had any power.  I was amazed!  It took excellent pictures!!  Hence the last couple posts had half decent pictures to add instead of noisy and blurry shots.  The camera has an excellent macro function, so I’ve been taking advantage of it.  I even did some nature shots.  You can see my Flickr here.

That’s not to say this camera has nothing that detracts from it.  This thing eats batteries like you wouldn’t believe.  I’ve had brand new batteries eaten alive by the auto-focus in Macro mode before I could even take a shot.  But still, for how old it is, it’s not bad, and it will do just fine until I can either get a new camera, or buy myself one.

Fantastic hobby, crummy camera


The last hobby I ever expected myself to get into was photography.  And really, photography isn’t much my thing.  Cooking is my thing, I just happen to enjoy taking pictures of the scrumptious things I cook.  Unfortunately, the POS camera (and I’m not referencing point-and-shoot there) I have is crummy, at best.  I picked up a little point-and-shoot camera about three years ago when my dog located and subsequently destroyed my old one.  Nothing special, merely a Nikon CoolPix, boasting six megapixels and a few customizable features.  All I wanted at the time was something to take half decent pictures, and nothing more.

Then I found cooking, and blogging.  The two go together like peanut butter and jelly (see what I did there?  Culinary reference.)  I started posting on Facebook about the things I was cooking, though not only did I want to tell more of the story surrounding the food I just made, but my friends were complaining about descriptions with no pictures to drool over.  So, I started taking pictures.

I have no idea how to use a camera besides aiming the sucker towards what I wanted a picture of and pushing the little button on top.   Little did I know about the better things a half decent camera could do!  So I looked up how to do it.  And I picked up my camera to adjust those things, because a lot of point-and-shoot cameras will allow you to adjust them.  And I learned that my hunk-of-junk is…well…a hunk of junk.  It has no manual mode.  It’s macro setting produces blurry pictures without the flash, and over-exposed pictures with the flash.  Scene modes did little to help.  The focus was terrible.  I would get blurry photos from what I thought was perfectly still shots.

So the search began for a new camera.  I found one, the Canon PowerShot SX210 (in black), and now I’m batting my eyelashes at my dearest Beloved, because Christmas is coming and I swear if I had a better camera I’d just cook all the time to take pictures of my pretty food!  And, well, what am I going to do with all of that food?  Someone has to eat it!  And I like to eat but I just make sooooo much sometimes, I need help eating it.  Who could I ever convince to eat all of that food?  Gee, I wonder.

Cooking for Therapy

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After coming home from work, having made very little in comparison to what I’m used to making, the first thought through my head was “I want to cook something.”  Mind you I was not particularly hungry.  It seems that one my stress levels start to rise, I seek to busy my hands and plunge my mind into something other than what is plaguing me.  My de facto way of diverting myself is to start whipping up something delicious.

It just amused me that the first thing I thought of to soothe my scattered mind was to pull out a frying pan.  Some people take a bath.  Some read a book.  Some meditate.  I want to make dinner.  We live in a world where people constantly try to avoid having to make meals, with instant meals, take out, and restaurants, whereas I seek to make them.  Instant meals, with the exception of Lipton chicken noodle soup (which harkens from my childhood and will always hold a special place in my heart and blood pressure levels), have no place in my kitchen.

Of course, this lead to the question “What to make?”  I started fiending for some okonomiyaki, a Japanese pancake/pizza that I throw green onions and shrimp into for a tasty, carbohydrate-laden delight.  But I am out of Kewpie mayonnaise (I need to get to Von-Son, and soon) and green onion.  (Rats.)  Udon?  My veggie drawer isn’t stocked for a proper udon pot.  Tempura?  Too tired.  Soup?  No onion.  Realistically, if I felt like it, I could have whipped up some nikujaga (a meat and veggie stew) but by the time I seriously thought out all of my options, I was too tired, and just made a packet of Lipton soup.

But the point still stands.  I find cooking soothing.  It distracts me from what is stressing me, and it is not only a joy, but a therapy.  I wonder if I am the only one who thinks this way.