Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Artificial Sweetener Blues

In the last day or two, I recall somebody's HYC blog featuring a recipe made with stevia. I didn't think much about it, mostly because I've never used the herb-based sweetener.

This morning, however, I read an article about aspartame - the phylalanine-based artificial sweetener often used in soft drinks, diet gelatins, and sugar-free gums and mints - considered by some to be a carcinogen, and thought by others to boost the appetite, cause carb cravings, and inhibit weight loss. Yep, the blue stuff. The blue packets in my kitchen cabinet.

James B. LaValle, founder of the LaValle Metabolic Institute, says whenever your liver is forced to filter and metabolize a poison, it can be damaged. "There is no doubt in my mind that aspartame is just that, a poison," he says.

LaValle further contends the FDA has been aware of problems with aspartame for years. In fact, the FDA once actually published a list of 92 (yes, 92!) side effects and reactions to this chemical. Here's a sampling from that list:

* Headache and dizziness
* Abdominal pain and cramps
* Change in vision
* Seizures and convulsions
* Fatigue and weakness
* Change in heart rate
* Difficulty breathing
* Oral sensory changes
* Joint and bone pain
* Blood glucose disorders
* Blood pressure changes
* Difficulties with pregnancy
* Change in sexual function

"I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again," LaValle concludes, "If you crave something sweet, use the all-natural herb stevia. You can buy it at any health food store in a liquid or powder form. It’s sweeter than sugar, has no calories, tastes great… and it’s safe."

To my dismay, the reports about Splenda were not much better than those for aspartame. And I've got giant bags of Splenda in my pantry. At least right now.

Ed. Note: James B. LaValle, RPh, N.D, C.C.N., is founder of the LaValle Metabolic Institute, a nationally recognized expert on natural therapies, and the author of 13 books on healthy lifestyles and integrative care, including Cracking the Metabolic Code.
Anybody else want to weigh in on this sweet conversation?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Willpower: Budget Wisely

Books like this get my attention: Welcome to Your Brain: Why You Lose Your Car Keys but Never Forget How to Drive and Other Puzzles of Everyday Life.
Authors Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang, writing for the New York Times, cite scores of research showing we have a fixed will power budget, one that we should be careful spending.

"If we tap into this neural reservoir and use it on one thing, we have less for others," says psychologist Daniel Goldman. "Tasks that demand some self-control make it harder for us to do the next thing that takes will power...Some neuroscientists suspect that self-control consumes blood sugar, which takes a while to build up again, and so the depletion effect."

The flip side is that, unlike our assumption that we are born with a fixed amount of brain goo that depletes over time, science now confirms the brain makes about 10,000 new cells every day that migrate to where they are needed. Once there, each cell makes around 10,000 connections to other brain cells over the successive four months.

As a result, each time you exercise will power, you strengthen your brain’s "executive center" - located just behind the forehead. Learning to delay gratification in one area like food increases your ability to resist impulse buying at the store, for instance. (Remember our recent conversations about how developing discipline in one area - like food choices - improves our performance in other areas - like C25K?)

I suspect this is valuable information - not only for adults like us who are retraining our brains, but also for those of us who want to give our children and grandchildren a head start on healthy living.

Healthy You Challenge 2008

This week, I'm pleased to report the brain and body cooperated to produce another two-pound loss, bringing the totals since January 15 to 37 pounds and 31.5 inches lost. That means we’re 57 percent toward the goal of losing a total of 65 pounds in 33 weeks, or by August 12.

BMI: Start 33.9 / Current 27.9 / Goal 23.4 or less
Waist-to-hip ratio: Start .94 / Current .85 / Goal .80 or less

Monday, April 28, 2008

Train 'em Young!

Our effervescent Felicia requested we post a childhood photo. Here's one that, until recently, was always prominently displayed in my mother's living room. Notice those chubby cheeks, fluffy arms and chunky thighs? How about the little roll just below the shoulder?

Obesity in kids has reached epidemic levels. Experts estimate that 15 percent of kids are overweight and another 15 percent are at risk of becoming overweight. And two-thirds of these overweight kids will become overweight adults.

These alarming statistics have already prompted many of us to make a commitment to prevent obesity in our children or grandchildren by helping them maintain a healthy weight through appropriate food choices and adequate exercise.

Last week, several of us discussed having been reared as members of the "Clean Plate Club." Somehow, what began as the Food and Fuel Control Act of 1917 to preserve our food supply during WWI evolved into a movement forcing children to eat more than they really need.

I'm grateful the tide is turning, but my goodness, have you looked at a typical public school breakfast and lunch menu recently??

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Inspiration: Christina Gray - Monroe, La.

When we moved to Hot Springs, Ark., six years ago, I bought this piece to hang over the mantle in our living room. Painted by Christina Gray of Monroe, La., her art has continued to inspire me - not only because of the subject matter, but also because of the courageous person she is.

Christina was born in Europe during the time her father served in the military. Struck with polio by age five, she spent several years in a body cast in an attempt to straighten her spine. Despite medical intervention, she lost the use of her left shoulder, arm and hand.

As an adult, Christina reared three children on her own, after having been abandoned by her husband. Instead of whining and pouting, she made up her mind to go back to school and work her way through college. Not only did she complete her undergraduate degree, but she also obtained her Masters of Fine Arts with honors.

Christina painted this piece during her last year in school, when the idea of getting a degree had lost some of its glamour. Although I'm not sure she ever gave the painting a formal name, we always referred to the women as the Biblical characters Ruth, Naomi and Orpah.

Every time I look at the painting I'm energized. All of us have choices. We can turn back. We can tolerate our circumstances. Or we can look for hope in all situations, bringing life to all those around us.

Thanks for inspiring me, Christina. One day, I hope to buy the other paintings in this series!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Open Wide and Say Spahhhhh!

My, oh my, oh my! I love to be pampered, but I love to be surprised even more. And boy, did DH surprise ME today!

"Why don't you spend the afternoon at the spa?" he whispered, nudging me from a dreamy Saturday-morning sleep. "I'll be playing two rounds of golf today, and since you've worked so hard on your fitness plan, I think you deserve a little something extra - especially since I was recovering from surgery on your birthday and we didn't really do much to celebrate."

So...after my workout at the gym, I went to Spa Botanica at the Hot Springs Embassy Suites hotel for a 20-minute aromatherapy bath followed by a 55-minute deep-tissue massage. (If you come to visit, ask for heavenly-hands Heather!) And to finish it off, I indulged in a luxury pedicure.

DH and I arrived home within five minutes of each other, just in time to freshen up for dinner at Red Lobster, where we each enjoyed a fire-grilled shrimp selection with salad, broccoli and asparagus.

Back home again, we're now in our jammies, ready to take in a movie on TV.

Ahhhh.....what a nice day!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Taste of Mexican Happy Dance

If I had to pick one TASTE - not calories - I've really missed since having started our healthy-eating lifestyle, it would have to be what used to be a meal out for Mexican food a couple of times a month. For instance, chips and salsa plus two chicken enchiladas with queso, refried beans and rice from On the Border packs a whopping 1710 calories and 88 grams of fat!

Last night, I tried my hand at creating a healthier alternative that would deliver a variety of textures and the taste of Mexican food. Here's how I did it for two. (If you need more, double as needed, except for the chili, which makes enough for 6-8 servings, anyway.)
Two boneless, skinless chicken breasts marinated in 1/4 c. lime juice and 1/2 t. garlic powder. Before grilling, dust with chili powder and cumin.

Combine 1/4 c. Chinese black rice with 1/4 c. brown rice. Use lo-fat chicken broth for liquid. Add 1/4 c. cilantro and 1/4 c. diced red bell pepper to rice before cooking.

Chop 1/2 c. each - celery, green bell pepper, red bell pepper - plus 1/4 c. green onion tops and bottoms.

Make one pot of 2-Alarm Chili - which is great because it has all seven seasonings in pre-measured packets. I brown one pound of 93/7- percent ground turkey with one chopped onion to start the process. We also like kidney beans in our chili.
After all the prep work, here's how we layered it on the plate:

1/2 c. rice mixture
1 c. turkey chili with beans
Raw veggies - celery, bell peppers, onions
Grilled 4-oz. chicken breast - sliced on the diagonal
2 Tbls. 2-percent cheddar cheese

Microwave just long enough to melt cheese.

I promise this is a MOUNTAIN of food, fully satisfying,
but only 606 calories.

If you like, serve with fresh fruit salad - strawberries, kiwis, tangerines, grapefruit and banana - tossed in lo-fat yogurt.
Add 200 calories.

Holy mackerel. We were stuffed (sorry), but MAN, did it ever satisfy my Mexican-food craving!!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Recommended: Exotic Rice

Oooooh-Eeee! I love it when I find a new source for unique, flavorful foods. Check out this Chinese Black Rice from Urban Accents. Who knew rice came in exotic varieties like LaMancha Saffron, Himalayan Red, Wild Bayou, Siam Jasmine or Yunan Palace Bamboo? Trouble is, these all look as if they're temporarily out of stock online. I actually found mine in the gourmet section of T. J. Maxx.

Never fear, they're also available here in one pound bags for less than $3. How about Purple Sticky Rice or Brown Wehani Rice?

Even my picky eater DH liked the chewy texture and nutty flavor of the black rice, which I cooked in chicken broth. Wonders never cease! And at only 80 calories for 1/2 cup, it's a great fiber-filled treat!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

ICU: Intensive Cardio Unit

Here's a funny one:

This morning, while visiting with my mother in a local hospital waiting room where my stepfather had surgery this morning, she said, "Honey, you look great. I can just see the weight
falling off of you."

It was all I could do not to roll on the floor laughing. Bless her 125-pound self. She truly meant her statement as a compliment...but still! Anybody who is on this journey knows the weight NEVER seems to just FALL OFF. Instead, it CREEPS off - itsy bit by itsy bit - after hundreds of healthy food choices and endless hours on the cardio circuit.

But Mom's idea was a lovely thought, wasn't it? And mine, on the other hand, is actually pretty pessimistic.

As a matter of fact, starting right now, I will incorporate HER vision into my daily personal affirmations:
"...Now that I've found the discipline to eat according to my needs rather than being driven by self-destructive habits, impulses or diets, I am able to face the day without overeating. And because I exercise as a matter of habit, my body functions at its peak - metabolizing calories quickly and efficiently - leaving me free to forget about food and instead, to use my increased energy for productive, enjoyable activities..."
Quote adapted in part from Key No. 4 in The Ultimate Weight Solution: The 7 Keys to Weight Loss Freedom

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Inspiration: The Walkers

At the risk of sounding like a Dr. Phil evangelist, I continue to reference his book, "The Ultimate Weight Solution."

In Key Seven, Dr. Phil cuts to the chase and says that if we expect to lose weight and keep it off, we must nurture relationships that affirm and lift us up in life-changing ways.

"Look at it this way," he says. "People will either contribute to or contaminate your personal weight control and management...To live in a healthy manner, you've got to recognize the influence of your relationships on your life and take care that they don't push or pull you in the wrong direction."

Dr. Phil's recommended support team includes a coach, a teammate, a cheerleader and an umpire.

Bill and Ellen Walker are my teammates - the folks with whom I work out, the ones who help to keep me on task. We help to monitor each other's behavior - comparing what works and what doesn't. Most of all, they're ideal teammates because they are natural motivators in every area of their lives. Their passion is contagious, and each time I am around them, I am energized and strengthened with purpose.

So...thanks to an incredible support team - which includes Bill and Ellen - I am pleased to report another three-pound loss this week, bringing the totals since January 15 to 35 pounds and 29.75 inches. Bling, bling!

Quotes from The Ultimate Weight Solution: The 7 Keys to Weight Loss Freedom

Monday, April 21, 2008

One for the Books

Sudden stress can spark a hot flash; unfortunately, no calorie burning is associated with the event. That's too bad. Here's an incident that should have knocked off a pound or two:

A couple of weekends ago, I married a precious couple, Jessie and Kelly (formerly McQueen) Newton. At the end of the ceremony, after Jessie kissed his new bride, I announced, "Laides and Gentlemen, it is my distinct honor and privilege to introduce Mr. and Mrs. Kelly McQueen." (Get it?? That's the BRIDE'S NAME!!)

The congregation laughed uproariously, thinking I had done it on purpose! (NOT!) Jessie and Kelly were great sports about the whole thing, which I sincerely appreciated. Their photographer posted several beautiful pictures of the wedding, which will give you an idea how I spend a good portion of these gorgeous weekends.

Guess I'll be burning calories another way tonight. Just got a call from my mom, asking if she and her DH can hang here at the house for a couple of hours in between doctor's appointments tomorrow.

Better clean up this office! See ya tomorrow at HYC Weigh-in!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Just Get Me to the Church on Time

Sorry for the late post today. It's been a another whirlwind weekend.

As I mentioned yesterday, our string quartet played the second wedding of the weekend yesterday afternoon. I got in a good workout yesterday morning, including the Swiss ball workout. (To answer the question, 'How do you get in the starting position?', you first sit on the ball, then lean back slightly as you walk your feet out until the ball "rolls" up your back.)

Late this morning, I went to the golf course with DH and hit three buckets of balls before joining my mom and her DH for lunch. A quick phone call to our agency's harpist led me to believe everything was on go for this afternoon's wedding - for which my only responsibility was to contract the musician...or so I thought!

After a good C25K outside workout, I came back inside hot, sweaty, but feeling good. At 4:20, no sooner than I had sucked the first sip of a frozen orange protein slush, the phone rang.

On the other end, a somewhat panicky bride reminded me the wedding rehearsal was scheduled to have started at 4 p.m. I reassured her the harpist would arrive in plenty of time to begin playing the prelude by 5:30 for the ceremony at 6 p.m.

"But you're supposed to officiate, and we were expecting YOU for the rehearsal," the bride explained slowly and distinctly while I frantically searched my contract folder to make sure I hadn't overlooked something.

Regardless how it happened, my mission was to calm the bride and guarantee that I could arrive within 30 minutes to conduct a rehearsal and subsequently perform the ceremony.

Sweat still rolling down my back, I took a 30-second shower, blow-dried my hair with the sweat in it, powdered appropriate areas, donned my ministerial garb, grabbed my liturgies - plus a food bar and a bottle of water - and hit the road. (Pant! Pant!)

The wedding went fine, everybody loved it, and I finished with 20 minutes to spare before I was scheduled to meet my DH for a 7 p.m. movie.

After tomorrow morning's workout, I'll catch up on my blog reading!!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Having a Ball on Saturday

Weekends are for least for me! Yesterday, I married a couple at the end of a windy pier at Butler Manor Bed & Breakfast.

This afternoon, our quartet will play for a wedding in the Anthony Chapel of Garvan Woodland Gardens.

Before I go to the wedding, I'm headed to the gym for an extended workout - which, beginning today, will include exercises specifically geared to improve my (novice) golf skills.

Today, I'll incorporate the Russian Twist on a Swiss Ball
• Lie on ball, with shoulder blades on ball and hips pushed up high off ground.
• Place hands together, as in the photo (or hold a single dumbbell when you advance in Swiss ball workouts).
• Keeping your hips up, turn your shoulders to the right so they are perpendicular to the ground.
• Twist back to the starting position, then twist to the other side.
• Do 10 twists to each side for a couple of sets.

Benefits to the Golf Swing include:
• Improved rotational strength and speed.
• Strengthened and better-protected spine
• Utilization of arms and core as one, similar to a golf swing.

After doing this exercise for just a short period of time, I should notice an increased ability to make a full and tension-free backswing as well as more power coming into impact during the downswing.

Actually, during that first position, I'll probably be praying, "Dear God, please don't let me make a fool out of myself by rolling off this ball. Besides, I've gotta play my cello this afternoon and can't afford to hurt my shoulder, okay?"

Friday, April 18, 2008

Coming Out of the Closet

Somebody better at "figuring out the details" than I am may have a suggestion how we can help each other out with the clothes we've shrunk out of.

I'm about ready to do something with the 16's now taking up space in my closet. And probably somebody else who is sliding down to a 16 could make good use of some of these items.

And I'm guessing that because so many HYC bloggers are closet fashionistas anyway, we could probably make this work pretty well - if only we had a plan.

Ideas, anyone?

P.S. Happy birthday, Mom!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Green Initiatives

One of the advantages of living in Hot Springs, Ark., is being only 15 minutes away from Hot Springs Village, home to nine beautiful golf courses. What's even better is that property owners can play a round on several of the state's top 10 courses for less than $25 (including cart), plus monthly association dues of $37.

As part of my commitment to become more active this year, I agreed to learn to play golf - as long as my DH agreed to pay for a series of lessons from a professional golfer so that I could learn the fundamentals the right way the first time. DH agreed, and set me up with Steve Wheelis, a golf pro who lives in the Village.

I had my first lesson yesterday as an introduction to grip; alignment; set-up, ball position and athletic posture; and swing plane. WOW, was it ever fun! I may be hooked!

Golf may not burn as many calories as the treadmill, but it's a great way to spend time outdoors between workouts. Stay tuned for updates!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Making Commitment Less Taxing

Most of you have probably already read the HYC Blog Post of the Week. Written by Briy, an American educator in Korea, she uses her teaching gift to explain the importance of consistently making the right choices over time.
(People who have lost a lot of weight) had to make a million correct decisions to get there. Day after day, they forced themselves onto the treadmill or into the gym. Meal after meal, they turned down the extra helping, threw away the chocolate. And each step, each decision, was so relatively unimportant. Passing on the dessert just once has almost no effect. But passing on that same dessert 20 days out of 30 in a month... how many pounds could that be? Like today, I went to the gym and jogged/walked faithfully on the treadmill for 30 minutes, for a total of about 275 calories burned. But that's a drop in the hat. I have to do that same thing six times a week, and eat on-plan, to succeed in losing the week's allotted 1-2 pounds. Then repeat that, all the while upping the intensity, 49 times to lose 100 pounds. That's why each step is so "halting and painful" - because it is so small.
On her vision board, Briy observes that developing discipline in one area of our lives often spills over into another area. Am I the ONLY one in this bunch who waited until the last minute to file a tax return?? Talk about self-induced STRESS!

DH is a left-brained salaried employee who ordinarily filed his taxes the day after his W-2's arrived...until we got married. I, on the other hand, am a right-brained self employed freelancer who, although diligent about keeping accurate records, has in the past, procrastinated compiling the records for our CPA. Why? Who knows.

So, Miss Briy, thanks for helping me see that the same principles we use to help loose weight - small steps, small decisions, made consistently over time - will also help prevent last night's scenario in our household from ever happening again.

Today, I will begin keeping my records up-to-date each week. And I will not begin next week's work until that task is completed.

But now, I'm off to my first GOLF lesson!!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Inspiration: Our Gym Hero, Part II

A few days ago, I mentioned an interview with David Elmore, a Marine veteran wounded in Vietnam, who inspires many of us to work out, even when we don't feel like it.

I finally wrote the story yesterday for publication in the May issue of a local magazine. You can read it now by clicking here.

***In other news, it's weigh-in day for 2008 Healthy You Challenge participants. I am happy to report that after having lost only one pound each of the past two weeks, I dropped FIVE pounds and an additional 1.75 inches this week - bringing the totals since January 15 to 32 pounds and 28 inches lost.

Do I have an explanation? Not really. Calorie count still averaged right at 1300 a day, but I was able to put in more strength training this week, once I got off the road and back into my home gym.

A special thanks (which takes a few seconds to load) to everybody who encouraged me during the "slow weeks."

Reporting to you live from Happy Dance Hall...

Monday, April 14, 2008

Recommended: Bob's Red Mill Products

Most nutritionists agree we should incorporate more whole grains as well as high-fiber fruits and vegetables into our diets.

Although it provides no nutrients by itself, fiber benefits our bodies in several ways. Insoluble fiber (wheat bran, and some fruits and vegetables) assists the digestive tract by helping to push along other waste. And soluble fiber (fiber that dissolves in water) helps prevent cholesterol from being absorbed into the blood stream.

Bless my DH's heart; he's just not a high-fiber kinda guy. He'll take white bread, white rice and rolled oats any day over more substantial varieties because they "are too chewy" or "taste like cardboard." And he's not really keen on green, leafy vegetables, either. Unfortunately, that may be one reason why he had his gall bladder removed last week.

Of course, I've taken tips from healthy bloggers and learned to slip pureed veggies or wheat germ into other recipes to increase the fiber in his diet. (As I've said before, some of this lifestyle change is akin to training children.)

For the rest of us, high-fiber foods not only taste better, but also help to stave off hunger.

One of my favorite product lines is Bob's Red Mill, purveyors of old-fashioned stone ground whole grain products.

"Our slow turning millstones grind the bran, endosperm and germ (containing its nutritious wheat germ oil) into flour in a cool natural way, creating a more assimilable food," says Bob's web site, which is full of good recipes.

One of my favorite Red Mill products is Steel Cut Oats. Until I tried Red Mill varieties, I thought hot breakfast cereals were pretty "run of the mill."

Then! On the last press trip, one of the foodie journalists told me she BROWNS the entire package of oats - either under her broiler or in a cast iron skillet - before storing them. When cooked, she says, they deliver a delicious nutty flavor that's hard to beat. I agree! I agree!

And of course, I usually add chopped apple, raisins or dried cranberries to my breakfast delight - just because I like it!

How do you pump up the fiber content of your meals?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Inspiration: A Taste of Spring

Azaleas are decked out like flocks of pink flamingos outside my office window. Tulips, irises, dogwoods and wisteria accent the canopy of delicate greens at Garvan Woodland Gardens, where I have spent most of the weekend officiating wedding ceremonies.

Martin Luther once said, "God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.”

This morning, I put together a "gratitude video" to help me remember the beautiful flowers I have seen during the past year.
In fact, I think I'll take a long walk outside this afternoon, just to enjoy the beauty and fragrance of the season.

Music on the video is "Credo III" from the Solitudes collection,
"Illumination:Peaceful Gregorian Chants." Enjoy!

(To view Full Screen - which is really prettier - click here . After the video opens, click on the icon in the bottom right corner of the viewing screen.)

Saturday, April 12, 2008

More Choices, More Rewards

Yesterday, a group of my friends surprised me with a birthday luncheon at the country club. Because I'm out of town a lot, I don't socialize so much as they do, especially those who are retired or semi-retired. For that reason, I especially appreciated their time and effort to gather us together.

We all enjoyed a delicious salad buffet; but right in the center of our table sat a gorgeous Italian cream cake - my absolute favorite - as a gift from one of my best friends.

"Surely you're going to have a piece," they chimed.

"Well, I certainly am going to make a wish, blow out my candles and take a picture of that beautiful thing!" I said with a big huge smile.

As soon as the luncheon was over, I drove straight to Garvan Woodland Gardens to perform a wedding ceremony - one of four I officiated this weekend. When I got home, lo and behold, the remaining half of that cake PLUS a dozen cookies was sitting in my kitchen! I declare, the sugary concoction developed a voice, and has been calling me ever since.

This is the first time since January 15 I've had "unhealthy choices" in my kitchen, and I can tell I'm not ready. So, I've made up my mind: Tomorrow, when I go to the gym, I'm taking the desserts with me and giving them to the staff. Why not? After all, I'm miserable knowing they're in the fridge; but I'll feel worse if I eat all that sugar. Right? Right.

Maybe Garland Mitchell, the man in the picture, will be there. Next Friday, he'll be 94!! And the gym staff tells me he comes to work out five days a week. THAT'S inspiration!

Here's a little more inspiration. The past two weeks, I've plodded along with one-pound losses each weigh-in. This morning, I stepped on the scale, and knocked down three more pounds - jumping past the big 3-0! Bling, bling!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Getting to Know You

Okay, Cammy, here's your meme - since I've got an interview and four weddings to perform today!

A is for age: 53, yesterday.
B is for booze of choice: Not on the radar. Quit August 8, 2002.
C is for career: Travel journalist and professional cellist.
D is for your dog’s name:
No pets.
E is for essential items you use/love everyday: Coffee pot, laptop, ATT 8525 PDA, MP3 player
F is for favorite song(s) at the moment: You Inspire Me
by Skye Dyer
G is for favorite games: What will I cook for dinner tonight?
H is for hometown: Hot Springs, AR
I is for instruments you play: cello, piano
J is for jam or jelly you like: grape jam, pear preserves, honey
K is for kids: Wayne, 25.
L is for last kiss: A few minutes ago, DH.
M is for most admired trait: Smile, sense of humor
N is for name of your crush: DH
O is for overnight hospital stays: broken bones, baby
P is for phobias: I've learned not to verbalize these.
Q is for quotes you like: "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime." — Mark Twain, 1857
R is for biggest regret: Not worth the time to think about.
S is for sweets of your choice: Fresh fruit.
T is for time you wake up: 1:30 and 5:30 a.m.
U is for underwear: Yes.
V is for vegetables you love: Turnip greens!!
W is for worst habit: Cramming too much into my schedule,
but I'm getting better at prioritizing according to goals, not urgency.
X is for x-rays you’ve had: wrist, ankle, hand, mouth, boobs
Y is for yummy food you make: Cajun food!
Z is for zodiac sign: I'm an Aries

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Inspiration: Our Gym Hero

Whew, it feels good to be home - sleeping in my own bed, cooking in my own kitchen, sitting at my own desk, working out in my home gym. On my birthday!

Tomorrow morning, I'm scheduled to interview a man who, without knowing it, has inspired me to train consistently, even when I don't feel like it. Each time he walks into the gym, he yells, "Mornin', everybody! (Waits for response.) How's everybody doin' today? (Waits for second response.)" For the next few minutes, he strolls around the gym, pumping handshakes like a seasoned politician.

I watch as he unzips his gym bag to retrieve an unwieldy contraption which he slings over his shoulder. With one hand, he buckles a strap around his chest. Next, he wraps a towel around one handle of a spin bike. Finally, he locks his prosthetic hand over the towel and begins his workout.

Folks who've been around a while tell me he was injured in the war. I'm not yet sure which one. I'll find out in the morning.

After I learned his name, I called our gym hero this afternoon to schedule the interview. He agreed, but said he needed to be finished by 10:30.

"A group of us meet over at the St. Joseph Chapel to pray for our service personnel serving in Iraq and other areas of the world," he explained.

This is going to be a good story. I'll keep you posted.

P.S. Thanks to everybody who sent get-well wishes to DH. He's recovering nicely!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Final Score: Rebecca - 1; Culinary Trail - 0

I DID IT! I survived eight days on south Louisiana Culinary Trails and still lost a pound!! Although, without a scale on the road, I could't report for yesterday's Healthy You Challenge Tuesday Weigh-in. What's more, I lost additional body mass, bringing the total inches lost since January 15 to 26.25". (Not a mistake this time.) WAHOO!

DH Update: Monday's gall bladder removal went fine. He is moving around enough to prevent soreness, and resting while watching the Master's Tournament. Duh.

And in answer to Felicia's Fun Photo Challenge requesting a picture of where we live, I am posting a picture of Anthony Chapel at Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs, Ark., where our string quartet performs a majority of weddings on the schedule.

Thanks again to all my HYC friends who stopped by to offer encouragment while I was on the road. I'll begin catching up on blog reading tonight.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Louisiana Culinary Tour - Day 7

Yesterday, we mentioned having eaten at Restaurant La Provence, where Chef Rene's big focus is "farm to table." Another journalist on this trip was savvy enough to upload a short video of our trip to a crawfish farm last Thursday so that you can see how these tasty crustaceans are harvested. Click here to meet Chad. (Okay, if you didn't click, you are r-e-a-l-l-y missing out on some healthy south Louisiana scenery.)

Before we left the hotel, I got in a workout on the treadmill in my room, and then ate a healthy breakfast from the Omni's Ideal Nutrition menu.

Once outside the hotel, our group started the morning with famous cafe au lait (coffee with steamed milk) and beignets (ben-YAYS) at the French Quarter's famous Cafe Du Monde. (*sigh* I took pictures and drank my coffee and chickory straight.)

Later in the morning, Louisiana Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu stopped by the Savvy Gourmet to show his support for the state's Culinary Trails program.

While we were there, Chef Matt Brewton showed us how to make an authentic roux using equal parts all-purpose flower and oil (not EVOO or walnut, which will burn). We watched as the cooking flour turned from blonde to paper-bag brown to milk chocolate to dark chocolate. Finally, the group got to sample a chicken-andouille (pronounced ahn-DOO-ee - which is a course, spicy smoked sausage) gumbo and a separate pot of crawfish etouffee.
(I ate moderate portions of each, without the rice.)

By mid-afternoon, we were touring the Audobon Society's newest attraction, The Insectarium. Scheduled to open this summer, it will be the largest free-standing museum in the U.S. devoted to over 900,000 insect species and their relatives. And yes, we were guests for a cooking show at the Cultural Cafe, where a zany chef introduced the "joy" of cooking with insects. Did I sample? No.
I figured if I'm "giving up" so many other foods all week, I'm definitely not going out of my way to eat insects! Nearly every other journalist, however, eagerly chomped down on crickets and ants.

Finally, we said our good-byes at Couchon Restaurant (pronounced COO-shon). Nominated in 2006 for Beard's Best New Restaurant, we enjoyed Chef Stephen Stryjewski's old-style German-Acadian traditions, which he learned from co-owner Chef Donald Link, who showcases the food he grew up preparing and eating at his grandfather's side. I ordered wood-fired oven grilled red fish accompanied with pickled onions and a side of collard greens.

By the way, DH had his gall bladder removed yesterday morning. I'll be flying home today, ready to take over care taking from his parents - who drove up from Louisiana to be with him during surgery.

Thanks again to everybody who stopped by here this week. I'll be visiting your blogs again once I get home. And I'm READY!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Louisiana Culinary Tour - Day 6

Last week, the Brennans of New Orleans joined only two other families - the Marriotts and the Busches - to be inducted into the Hall of Fame by the Culinary Institute of America as one of America's leading hospitality families.

Saturday night, we ate dinner in a 148-year old building overlooking New Orleans City Park at Ralph's on the Park, owned by Ralph Brennan.

Yesterday morning, we enjoyed the time-honored tradition of Sunday brunch in the French Quarter at Brennan's, owned by brother Ted Brennan. Since Katrina, we learned, the restaurant has been busy, but not as busy as before the storm. "We will not accept reservations for more guests than we have staff to handle," says Brennan, "simply because we will not compromise the level of service our customers have come to expect since 1946."

During the afternoon, we trekked up to the Fouberg Saint John (neighborhood area) to celebrate Super Sunday with the Mardi Gras Indians. I can only imagine how many calories they burn inside those elaborate costumes, made by hand and worn only twice a year - on Mardi Gras Day and on St. Joseph Day.

Last night, we drove across Pontchartrain Causeway to the Northshore area of New Orleans for a fine dining experience at Restaurant La Provence. With great emphasis on source to table protocol, Chef Rene Bajeaux delighted our palates with artistically presented authentic terroir cuisine. Several menu choices in the "healthy" category made this outdoor dining experience one of the highlights of my week.

YAY for another on-plan day, and thanks again to everybody who has chimed in with enthusiastic encouragement. I'm looking forward to catching up on your blogs!

Until then, stay tuned...Later today, we're suposed to eat INSECTS!!

Louisiana Culinary Tour - Day 5

Still in Baton Rouge yesterday morning, we didn't leave the Embassy Suites hotel until 9:30 - which left plenty of time for a workout in the hotel fitness center. And because we didn't have a group breakfast on the itinerary, I was able to order oatmeal and fat-free yogurt from the lobby buffet.

Yesterday's meal adaptations and compromises were similar to those I've shared with you in the last several posts. Each chef was happy to help me stay on plan by honoring my special requests.

Last night, we've moved to our home for the next three nights at the Omni Royal Orleans in the French Quarter of New Orleans. I nearly squealed with delight when I walked into my room and saw the treadmill, an amenity which is part of the Omni's Get Fit rooms.

The Omni Hotels Ideal Living program is designed to help you maintain a healthy attitude and lifestyle while you’re traveling. Healthy meal options are available as part of their Ideal Nourishment Program. And Get Fit Rooms like mine are set up for private, in-room workouts. In addition, all of the Omni Hotels' fitness centers have been renovated, complete with top-of-the-line equipment.

What a blessing!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Louisiana Culinary Tour - Day 4

First of all, you HYC gals are awesome! All through the day, your comments show up on my Blackberry email. And although I can't reply to let you know how much I appreciate your thoughtfulness at the time, I want you to know how grateful I am for such amazing encouragement.

Now, to the food. Breakfast at Hub City Diner in Lafayette, La. concluded with this plateful of aromatic comfort food. For appetizers, owner Jason Redmon prepared sweet potato biscuits, blueberry muffins and sweet potato pancakes - all accompanied by butter and syrup. (I ordered oatmeal.)

By lunchtime, we were on Avery Island, home of McIlhenny Co. and TABASCO brands, to attend a press conference to unveil the official Louisiana Culinary Trails Guide and to announce the new website.
The McIlhenny family treated us to this fabulous meal of fried shrimp, crawfish etouffe over rice, green beans and bread pudding. I ate two shrimp, all the crawfish - minus the rice and "sauce" - plus the green beans.

Our evening's exquisite wine dinner at Vic's Chop House in Baton Rouge was jointly sponsored by the restaurant and TABASCO chef Jason Gronlund, and was hosted by the Southern Breeze Wine and Culinary Festival - which we will attend tomorrow.

The five-course meal - each of which was paired with Australian Heath Wines - started with Duck Confit En Croute: tender duck with caramelized shallots, gouda and dill havarti cheese wrapped in puff pastry, served with pepper jelly. The soup course was a Deconstructed Oyster Rockafella Soup, consisting of tender baby spinach nested in a creamy broth, topped with crispy Louisiana oysters and crispy leeks with a dash of TABASCO habanera Pepper Sauce.

Our salad was Parma Chopped Shrimp Salad Cannoli-Style: mixed chopped greens in a light anchovy dressing with La. shrimp served in an aged Grana Pardano cannoli shell with a dash of TABASCO Green Pepper Sauce. (pictured above)

The entree was East-West Surf & Turf: miso-braised pork shank served with lobster eggroll, braised napa cabbage and fuikake mashed potatoes.

Finally, the dessert was a Brule Fruit Kabob with Greek mojito dipping yogurt accompanied by a spiced sangria martini.

I thoroughly enjoyed a bite of duck, a bite of soup, all the salad and about three ounces of pork shank and cabbage. Taking pictures and talking to the chef worked just as I had hoped it would to take the foucs off the fact I wasn't eating complete portions.

By day's end, the total calorie count was once again just under 1200. And the afternoon schedule was loose enough to squeeze in 35 minutes on the hotel's treadmill.

Another day, on the road, on plan. YESSS!