Thursday, February 28, 2013

Food Traditions (Paella)

To trace the history of Keith's and my paella food tradition, look no further than his blog post documenting it five years ago, and ignore if you will the fact that he actually posted that entry on February 14th and not two weeks later like some people we know.

Neither of us has ever been big into Valentine's Day, so I wasn't really expecting anything special when I arrived at his house on the 14th five years ago. On the other hand: what's wrong with a nice day celebrating love? I mean, really, are we that cynical? Since then, making a lovely, challenging meal has been the way we choose to celebrate Valentine's Day. Unfortunately this year, Keith had to teach late that night, so we celebrated on the 15th (thus making this post a mere 13 days late).


Paella is a seriously pain in the butt dish. Particularly if you only make it once, maybe twice a year, it's a pain in the butt. Getting the coveted socarrat - the brick red crust of rice on the bottom of the pan - without overcooking or just plain burning the rice takes some finagling. You're supposed to cook the seafood with the dish, letting it steam as the rice cooks, but Keith has long since taken to steaming it separately to keep it cooked properly. Never mind the fact that this ain't exactly cheap - saffon, scallops? Plus, it's kind of hard to make a paella fit for two, and paella doesn't really reheat very well. (I almost took a friend up on her offer to come by and take a doggie bag.)

But oh my goodness, oh my goodness, is it good. I look forward to it the whole year. As our home fills with the rich scent of saffron, and I watch my husband lovingly work away in the kitchen, it becomes ever so clear why this is one of our food traditions, and though the specific ingredients vary from time to time, I can't imagine a year we won't celebrate Paella Day.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

23 Almonds

I was planning on writing another "Food Traditions" post about our paella dinner, but then I was informed that today is National Almond Day, and since I had an almond post swirling around in my head, that seemed like the obvious choice.

Though my current class schedule is less stressful than last semester's, when I sometimes left home at 6:45am and got home around 9pm, I still have to consume a fair amount of my energy away from home, and I don't have ready access to refrigeration or cooking appliances. This means a lot of shelf stable foods, and that tends to get boring fast - not to mention the fact that those easy traveling foods don't often have a good intersection of "nutritionally sound" and "energy dense."


Almonds are a different story, though. Okay, sure, this isn't something I'd want to make a whole meal of, but they're definitely a healthy ingredient. They have a reasonable amount of fat (contrast pecans or macadamias), most of which is unsaturated, alongside Vitamin E and some other mineral goodness. The balance of protein, fats, and carbohydrates (fiber!) gives this tiny snack impressive staying power. Pair this with a piece of fruit and some carrot sticks, and I'm pretty well set for a six hour school day (assuming I eat a good breakfast, which I do!).

Of course, portioning with nuts is incredibly important, because it is so very easy to eat way, way more than a serving. Which is why I was thrilled when I won this little almond tin in my Food Science class for correctly answering a trivia question. I've taken nuts or seeds to school with me for a long time, but I was always just pouring what I "thought" was an ounce in a zip bag and happily munching away. I have no doubt that some days I was eating double (or more!) the proper serving size. Ever since I got this tin, though, I've been refilling it almost every day, happy to be consuming just the right amount of a healthy snack, with a bonus of not having to throw away any more plastic baggies.

Cheers! Enjoy your almonds, guys.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Congratulations on Your Possibly Ill-Advised and Unsustainable Weight Loss?

I'm not sure if DietBet is actually a new program, if it's just recently become popular either in general or in my circles specifically, or if (surely not!) I just haven't really been paying attention. Regardless, I've been hearing a lot about it lately. I actually don't know the details of the program exactly, but my understanding is you join a group by placing a bet of a certain amount ($$$) that you will lose 4% of your body weight in four weeks. At the end, if you haven't lost the weight, you forfeit your bet, and those who did lose the weight split the pot (after DietBet takes its cut, I'm sure).

On the one hand, I dig it. Sad as it may be, money is often a bigger motivator than health, because the consequences or rewards are concrete and immediate. There are numerous websites out there operating on this principle in one way or another (and I'll take a moment to shout out to my friends at Beeminder, who really put a lot of thought into how they use that motivation). So here's a way to help people force their own hands in making positive changes in their lives. And that's good!

On the other hand, 4% is a lot. If a patient lost that much weight without intending to, that might be a red flag for a dietitian (5% or greater weight loss in one month is considered "severe"). For a significant portion of people who truly need to lose weight, it means exceeding the recommended 2lbs/wk weight loss. It requires pretty significant calorie restriction. I'd have to create a deficit of over 750 calories every day for four weeks to be successful. That's pretty intense! And at the end of it, you know what I bet I'd do with my hard won (lost?) money?

I'd buy a really big cookie.

Which leads me to my... er... other hand. The kinds of restrictions that lead to this sort of speedy weight loss aren't sustainable. They're so restrictive, they feel like a punishment. They make you crave the foods you're shunning, they make you crave reward. The habits you have to develop to lose weight this quickly are not the habits you can carry with you throughout your life to help maintain a healthy weight.

So when I see friends or acquaintances or other blog authors proclaiming they've won their latest DietBet, all I can think to say is... nothing. I don't want to be the Negative Nancy poo-pooing on them taking a step in the right direction. But I also don't want to offer my heartfelt congratulations for taking that step in what I consider to be an irresponsible way.