Choosing Wisely

So passes the first weekend since my bold declaration about getting back in the weight loss game. Well, kind of, since it’s sort of a long weekend and it’s sort of still going if you’re not working today… but I digress.

Sean and I spent a lot time with his family this weekend, since his brother is visiting. Sean spends A LOT of time with *my* family (we’re a needy bunch, what can I say?) so I’m more than happy to tip the scale just slightly back in his favor, haha. We’ve grabbed a few meals together and took a daytrip up to Baltimore to visit the Aquarium, and so it actually was a more active (and enriching) weekend than I’ve had in a while, haha!

In addition to that, Sean managed to surprise me for the second year in a row with tickets to see Ari Hest in concert. Our very first date consisted of dinner and surprise tickets to see Ari Hest (which I guess, technically, means this is the third year in a row that he’s pulled this off.) Of course, now the joke’s on him, since clearly I’m going to expect this to happen next year now. Which I’m pretty sure means he has to continue doing this every year for the rest of eternity.

Aaanyway, clearly between all the various things going on, it was a pretty boss weekend. But it also, by nature of what went on, included a fair amount of going out to eat. So this weekend was pretty much my first test in seeing how much self-control I could muster with regard to my rebooted healthy living philosophy.

As you may know if you’ve been following this blog from before, I’m pretty lax when it comes to eating out. I’ve never been a proponent of the idea that being on a diet means you have to prepare ALL your own meals, eat at home EVERY night, and reserve going out for TRULY special occasions — it’s just not realistic for some people, and, while I certainly do love to cook, it’s really not realistic for me either. I mean, aside from the fact that I work for Yelp.com and so it is literally my job to know what all the best, newest, and hottest restaurants are in town, when it comes down to it, I just really like going out to eat.

I like restaurants, I like trying new foods, new cuisines, new dishes, and I just generally like the whole restaurant experience. Whether it’s for date night, happy hour with coworkers, or just meeting up for a bite to eat with a pal, I just like eating out. And I managed to lose 60 pounds perfectly fine without sacrificing my enjoyment of restaurants the first time around, so I don’t see why I can’t maintain that this time around! After all, just like last time, it’s all about making the right choices when you’re staring down that menu — and I don’t just mean in the obvious way.

So, let’s say you’re meeting a friend for dinner at some new trendy Mediterranean resto you’ve been wanting to try for ages. But, you’re on a diet. Or you’re watching your weight. Or you’re trying to #eatclean or you’re just trying not to feed into the Standard American Diet stereotype. Whatever the reason, you bypass the dishes of flaming cheese and french fried whatever, and your trained, seasoned dieter’s eyes head straight to the “Entree Salad” section of the menu. But… you already had a salad for lunch. Or, maybe you just don’t like salad. Maybe you just wanted to try the grilled octopus dish that folks have been RAVING about, or you hear the lamb burger calling your name. What do you do?

In ages past, I would probably say that the “right” choice would be to muster all that willpower, ignore the siren song of the slightly “unhealthier” dishes, and go for whatever salad sounds best — dressing on the side plz. I mean, it’s definitely the easy choice, right? After all, calories in < calories out, right? Weight loss! Willpower! Health! But... let's really think about this. Because what happens if you are unsatisfied with your dish? Well, I don't know about you, specifically, of course, but I do know about me. And I know that when it comes to me, ignoring a craving doesn't really work. And passing up something decadent for something healthy, because I think it's the "right" choice, has a nasty habit of backfiring on me. 'Cause what's gonna happen later? I'm probably still going to go in search of something to satisfy that earlier craving, and it probably won't be in a good way. See, eating healthy while eating out is, in my opinion, all about balance. It's about striking a balance between what you "should" have -- what's healthy, what's nutritionally solid, what will leave you satiated and well-fueled -- and what you WANT. I'm not saying that you should have license to eat crap because you say that you want it, though. Of course I'm not. I'm saying that the art (or science, depending on how you look at it) of eating out while trying to lose weight is more complicated than calories in vs. calories out. Scratch that, the art of eating PERIOD while trying to lose weight is complicated. Or, at least it is when you have prior food issues, like I do. Here are some examples, just from this past weekend! Sean took me to an Italian restaurant after the concert on Saturday, and, faced with a bevy of creamy, delicious-sounding pastas, I ended up choosing the dish with the fewest amount of calories off of their "Lighter Side" menu:

It was a 5 oz filet with grilled vegetables, totaling (according to the menu) a whopping 365 calories. But aside from the fact that it’s a pretty sad-looking plate (incidentally, the veggies were undercooked, the steak tasted pretty good but looked weird, and generally, I would not recommend), even if it had been an excellent plate of food I’m not sure I would have been happy with it… because it wasn’t really what I wanted. It’s just what I thought I should eat.

But in contrast, let’s look at another example from this weekend:

After the Baltimore Aquarium, we dined at Phillip’s Seafood in Inner Harbor, and I opted for the crab cake salad. I knew I wanted a crabcake — I was in Baltimore for crying out loud! I knew that crabcakes are not inherently the healthiest of foods. But I wanted one and knew I would regret not having it later. So I got a single crabcake with a nice salad on the side instead of a crabcake sammy with fries or any number of the other delicious-sounding items on their menu. And while, yes, I’m sure that eating it with french fries and cole slaw would have been even more delicious, I can say that I had a satisfying meal that I don’t have to feel guilty about.

It probably doesn’t even need to be said, but the same goes for eating dessert. If you want a little something sweet, have it. Otherwise you (or at least I) am more likely to end up making bad choices — maybe even binging — later when the craving gets too strong. After my delicious crabcake salad lunch, our entire party split a slice of pie:

Just a couple of bites were enough to satisfy my sweet tooth completely without making me feel laden down, guilty, or regretful at all. And I also didn’t go scavenging for something sweet later on! Win-win.

I’ve been rambling on for a while now, and I’m not 100% sure if I’m still making my point well, so I’ll cut myself off now. I guess the tl;dr message in all of this is: eating out does NOT have to come down to either making a “good” choice and feeling unsatisfied, OR getting what you want and feeling guilty. It doesn’t have to be an either/or, mutually exclusive situation at all. You can make choices you feel good about AND end up leaving the table happy and satiated — you just might have to get a little creative.

Thanksgiving Recipe Roundup

Part of me is literally flabbergasted that Thanksgiving is one week away. ONE. WEEK. I don’t know about you, but Turkey Day has seriously snuck up on me this year! I know I probably say that every year, but this year really does seem like it’s flying by. Craaaazy.

Thanksgiving is my third favorite holiday (the first being Christmas, duh, and the second being my birthday because YES MY BIRTHDAY IS A HOLIDAY SHUT YOUR CAKEHOLE) so I’m definitely happy it’s so soon. I’ve taken root as the primary cook for our family Thanksgivings, which is a huge joy to me because I love to cook so much. That said, planning out Thanksgiving dinner is not without its stressful moments.

This year will be the largest group of my family members to gather for a Thanksgiving meal that I’m head chef-ing up. Luckily, I’ve got my mom and two of my aunts who are all wonderful cooks as well, so I’m sure we’ll be able to tackle everything without a problem. I can’t wait to get everyone together, but I am trying to be a smidge more proactive this year. So far, that’s included actually designing the menu ahead of time! And here’s what I’ve come up with so far.

Gobble!

Turkey. Uh, duh. As in years past, I plan to use a Gretchened-up variation of Alton Brown’s Good Eats Roast Turkey recipe, which includes an overnight brine. This recipe honestly yields the best turkey ever. The brine keeps the turkey breast moist and delicious, and it seriously feels foolproof. There’s no basting, no checking, no turning of the bird. It requires the first 20 minutes on super high heat to seal everything in, and then you just turn down the heat and forgettaboutit. I always serve with pan-drippings gravy as well. Nom nom nom.

Roasted Garlic Whipped Potatoes

I mentioned a couple days ago that I was testing out a new mashed potato recipe, but that it didn’t quite live up to my Roasted Garlic Whipped Potatoes. Well, that’s because I believe few things can. I still am in love with this recipe, and I haven’t had a chance to make it for most of my family yet, so I’m very excited to. This recipe involves absolutely ZERO butter, making it far more waistline-friendly than your average taters. Instead, it uses roasted garlic, olive oil, and a splash of heavy cream. So good. So freaking good.

Stuffing with Butternut Squash and Apples

I am also planning on recreating my Stuffing with Butternut Squash and Apples recipe, which turned out truly fantastic last year. Usually there are a couple of vegetarians present at our family gatherings (my sister, in particular), but since Jenny and Dan are spending T-Day with his parents this year, I’m thinking about adding a little sausage into the stuffing as well. Either way, stuffing is my 2nd favorite Thanksgiving meal component (taters is #1), so I can’t wait!

Other meal components will include maple bacon roasted Brussels sprouts, this cranberry and pear compote that my mom and aunt made the last time we had a family dinner (it blew my jalapeno-cranberry relish recipe outta the water!), and I also want to try a new spin on kind of a green bean casserole. You know, find a way to make something with all the traditional flavor, but none of the Campbell’s Condensed Cream of Mushroom? Hahaha. We’ll see how that shakes out.

Still haven’t made any decisions on dessert yet, but you can rest assured there will be pie. OH SO MUCH PIE.

Man, I love Thanksgiving.

What’s your favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal? Are you all about the turkey, more of a sides person, or seriously into dessert?

National Cheesecake Day

I don’t know if you heard, but yesterday was National Cheesecake Day.

I know.

To celebrate such a truly important and momentous day, Sean and I headed out to The Cheesecake Factory for dins. But really it was mostly for the half-price cheesecake, let’s be honest. While there I noticed that the restaurant, which has long been part of lists in “Eat This, Not That”-type books as blatant “NOT THAT” options, has made a few changes to their already far too expansive menu. (Seriously, that thing is like 30 pages long.)

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They have created what they’re calling their “Skinnylicious” menu. I will refrain from getting into why I hate the name with a burning passion too much (it boils down to the idea of sensationalism as well as promotion of the idealism of being “skinny”, in a nutshell), but I do appreciate the effort that they’re trying to make in emphasizing lower calorie options and whatnot.

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The menu is broken down into different categories — appetizers, entrees, etc. — and a general calorie count is listed at the top of each. So, all of the salads and specials on the menu clock in at under 590 calories, for example, and all the cocktails are under 120. This is similar to what it’s like at Seasons 52, where every item on the menu is under 500 calories (or something like that.)

I have to admit I was pretty disappointed to see that they didn’t have specific calorie or nutrition information listed for each dish. It’s definitely a step in the right direction, but 590 calories is still potentially a lot for someone who is carefully counting. If you were to order a drink, an appetizer or starter salad, AND an entree, you could still easily end up with an almost 1,000 calorie meal despite picking from the “Skinnylicious” menu. And what if one of the items listed under “Specials” is really only 300 calories? That would probably change a lot of your choices, right?

Anyway, it’s probably pretty silly of me to be proclaiming my qualms about the “Skinnylicious” menu when I’m simultaneously boasting about the awesome cheesecake that I had last night. This was it, by the way:


Chocolate Tuxedo Cream Cheesecake

Om nom nom. To be fair, though, I only had a few bites before I boxed it up nicely. This is where I’ve learned to exercise moderation. Nobody says I can’t have my cheesecake and eat it too! I just now prefer to parse it out over a few days so it lessens the caloric blow to my waistline. Less guilt = more enjoyment.

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See? This picture was taken mere moments before boxing. Evidently I do have SOME restraint, because it was particularly delicious. (Perhaps even moreso because it was half-price?)

Are you a cheesecake person? I actually really don’t like plain cheesecake — too many bad experiences with dry ones, I think. But for as many issues as I may have with The Cheesecake Factory’s regular menu, I have to hand it to them: they certainly to a good slice o’ cake.