Kitchen Remodel - Day 1


Today marks the first day of our kitchen remodel.  I don't know if I would exactly call it the first day, since we have been prepping for this for the last couple of weeks.  I feel like Joey and I have been packing and unpacking and packing and unpacking since August.  Once we get stuff in a room, we end up packing it all up again for one thing or another.

Our kitchen is pretty old. I don't even know if anything has been done to it except layers and layers of stick on floor tiles and really pretty wallpaper trimming on the top.  We both knew that we wanted to redo the kitchen, but that was one room we had no interest in doing ourselves.  We have pretty much redone everything in our home by ourselves but this is one DYI project neither of us had interest in.  Originally we thought we would just gut the entire thing and start from scratch, but after working in the kitchen for a couple of months I kind of liked the layout. I mean, it's a small space and there is only so much we could do with it. After some thought we decided that we would leave things pretty much as they are and update them.

We have gotten a lot of advice on what we should do, but one day we were in Home Depot and were approached about cabinet refacing.  They would come in and in a week redo the facing of our cabinets and put in new countertops.  One week!  That sounded pretty appealing to both of us!  Now so many people have told us to avoid Home Depot, but I have to say that the entire process, so far, has been pretty great. They came in, measured our cabinets, gave us advice for adding drawers, etc. and had a variety of option for us to choose from.  We went with natural bamboo for our cabinet doors and drawers and Silestone for our countertops. Each step of the way the folks from Home Depot have been really friendly, helpful and professional.

Over the last week we have been getting ready for them to come and Joey painted the entire kitchen. We know we are going to have to retouch a lot of it, but having it done ahead of time means to don't need to worry as much about getting paint on our new cabinets.  He did a great job and the kitchen is already looking better!!


This morning our contractor, John, arrived. I have to be honest and say I have been really nervous about this, however once I met John I was put at ease.  He is a super nice guy and I got a good feeling about him from the minute I met him.  As the day went on it got better.

Throughout the day, John has gone out of his way to help me with any questions I might have and even taught me how to do a few things on my own.  Once he even called his brother to help me with a question I had about an electrical outlet.  He's totally explained everything to me and is really including me in the process.

By the end of the day our kitchen looks like this:



It's a little scary, but let's see what's in store for tomorrow!

My Aerogarden

A couple of years ago my friend, Suella, got me an aerogarden for Christmas. I always wanted one. They allow you to grow fresh herbs right in your kitchen. I've had basil, mint, thyme, parsley, dill. You name it. It's usually been very manageable.  You place the little pods into the rack, fill it up with water, add nutrients and watch it grow. It takes it's time, but you alway have a nice little garden with a variety of things to choose from. It's very neat and orderly. I keep it trimmed and when I need to I plant new seeds. Always the same ones, but new nonetheless. My aerogarden became a part of my life and very predictable. I loved my little garden and saw no reason to change it. It provided me with just the herbs I needed and I knew exactly what to do with them. I had mastered my aerogarden.

My life and been just like that. I carefully select and plant my little seeds and watch them grow and for the most part I have an orderly little life. I am always in control of what is going on and I liked it that way. I take very good care of this life garden of mine and I make sure everything is neatly selected and tended to. Sometimes things become a little overgrown, but I clip them back and when and when necessary I would plant some new seeds. Usually the same ones, but new seeds nonetheless. My life, like my garden is very predictable. I like it that way. Why wouldn't I? I love my apartment, with all my treasures and the light that streams in each day. My birds greet me each morning with the same love and excitement each day no matter what. My friends are wonderful and give me more love than I could hope for. Even my job has become a safe place that I enjoy going to each day. And, of course, there is Joey. The brightest flower in my life.  My life is perfect and I see no reason to change it. I know just what to do and how to do it. I had my routine down and I felt I had mastered my life.

About a month ago I got a new set of seeds for my aerogarden and this time they were different. They made a mistake in my order and this time I got some lemon basil.  I had never really heard of it, but it was basil, so what the heck. It's not what I ordered, but there is was so I planted it along with all my little seed pods and watched them grow expecting things to be just as always. Except this time they weren't. That little lemon basil plant was a force. It grew with reckless abandon. Suddenly my neat little garden as a bit out of control. What was I going to do? I suddenly had this new herb that was screaming for me to use it. To tell the truth it was special. It had a flavor I had never tasted and I like it. I needed special treatment so with this lemon basil I tried something new - Lemon Basil Sorbet. It was good. Really good! My cooking life changed and to keep up with my new little garden I was trying things I had never tried before. How fun! How unexpected. How exciting. I love my lemon basil and I can't imagine not having it.

My life right now is not unlike my garden. There has been a new seed added to the mix and it's growing with reckless abandon. Suddenly the routine I have tended to for so long is in the midst of change. At first this scared me. A lot. I have worked hard on this garden I call my life and I liked it. As predictable as it was, for me that was comforting. I had no need for change. Nope, not me. Then I thought of my little lemon basil plant. Maybe it was teaching me something.

Life is not always going to go as planned. Now and then the Universe is going to plant a seed and you might just not know what to do with it. You can try to cut it back, ignore it, maybe even pretend not to water it, but it's there and it's not going anywhere. I did all those things but yesterday it dawned on me. The Universe has given me my own little life version of lemon basil. I have no idea exactly what to do with this new thing put before me, but instead of fighting it, I am going to embrace it. I am going to nurture it, water it and love it. Before long I will know just what to do with it and it will be just as sweet as that lemon basil ice cream.

I am not giving up anything in my life with all these changes. I just have some new ingredients. I am cooking up a new recipe for life. Of course my favorite ingredients will all still be there. The sun will still stream in. My birds will still great me with joy. My friends will still be just as loving. My job still a safe place. And, of course Joey is till the brightest flower in my life. The only thing is now we have a new ingredient to spice up life. I can't wait to see what we cook up.

Making Lemonade

When life gives you lemons you make lemonade, or so the saying goes. Really, that's pretty easy. You squeeze your lemons, add water, then add enough sugar to make it sweet. You end up with a delightful little drink and are proud of your efforts. What happens though when life hands you a list of ingredients you have no idea what to do with?

If I were in the kitchen I could just ask my friend Sabrina from The Tomato Tart. She is an expert at exotic ingredients and would surely have an answer. If it were a cooking technique that I was unfamiliar with I could call Chef Joe from The Culinary Salon and he would certainly be able to give me techniques on how to prepare them. With their advice I would head off to my kitchen and most likely come up with something wonderful. If not, no harm done. I could try again and I would eventually get it right. The problem is, I am not in my kitchen. The ingredients life has thrown my way are not things I can experiment with and hope to get it right. This time I need to get it perfect because I only have one shot.

Joey and I have led a pretty charmed life. We have skillfully balanced what we have together along with our responsibilities to our families and so far it's worked. To be honest I have taken a fairly hands off approach to all of the family stuff. I took care of my mother from a distance and when she needed something I just sent it to her or hired someone to do it. She was far away; and, while she was with us, that seemed to work. The same goes for Joey's mom. He balanced time between her place and ours and it never really effected me. I guess you can say I had the best of both worlds. Joey and I had our little oasis in Castro and it was my job to keep our oasis flourishing. In all honesty, I had the easy part. It's been a joy to take care of the birds, cook meals and make sure that things ran smoothly here. I was the one that never left the oasis. It was Joey that came and went and dealt with reality. It's not that I didn't want to help, but my help came in making the occasional meal for his mom or maybe sending her cupcakes. All I really needed to do was make lemonade and everything seemed sweet.

Suddenly that has changed. Joey's mom went into the hospital and it quickly become apparent that we could no longer continue life as we had. It's not going be enough for me to make chicken adobo, cupcakes or even lemonade and send them along to Joey to give his mom. It's also not enough for me to sit in this oasis and think that everything will take care of itself. Joey needs my help and so does his mom.

So what do I do? Life has handed me a box of ingredients and I have no clue what they are or what do to with. If I were on the Food Network I would be chopped. I really don't know what to make of all this. What do I know about taking care of an elderly parent, let alone one I have kept distance from? Do I really want to redesign the current life that I have grown so comfortable with? Am I ready to give it up for the unknown? Do I really want to take on this responsibility when I just learned how to navigate my own life? The answer is yes. All I need to do is look at Joey to know that no matter what comes our way I want to be there with him. There is nothing too big that we can't take on together and there is nothing, I mean NOTHING, that is bigger than our love.

Life is not all that different than a kitchen. I got a box of ingredients I have no idea what do to with, but I still have people that will help me.  I called my friend Cheryl from AgingPro.com and she is an expert at this. She guided me to just the right person to help us navigate the whole thing. For preparation I called Karolyn who always knows just how to give me the just techniques and support I always need. Both of them are there to help me put this all together and whip up something that is going to be wonderful. And it's not just them. We have a huge family of friends that are there and will happily support us.

I would be lying if I said that all this change was easy for me - for us. But you know what? Life would be pretty boring if all I made was lemonade. I need to make something different and it doesn't need to be perfect. All I need to do is my best because that is what life is all about. Life never gives you ingredients you can't deal with and it will all turn out in the end and as long as you try and it was be just as wonderful. So I guess it's true, you can always make lemonade.

Karolyn's Baby Shower


Last month Gregory, Joey and I threw Karolyn a baby shower. We honestly had no idea what we were doing. None of us had ever been to a baby shower, let alone planned one. To be honest, Baby Showers don't have the reputation of being fun, so I was a little worried. But, this was for Karolyn so it had to be special.

The first thing we did to get us motivated was get the decorations. Oh my goodness, Joey and Sean at the party store should be illegal. Once we found the baby shower items and saw they came in sets we went nuts. We got every single item available in the duckie theme. That actually got us pretty excited, but a shower is more than just decorations there are games, too. Blech. I was not interested in playing poopy diaper or measuring Karolyn's tummy. Besides, I know how big her boobs are and at that time her belly and boobs were about the same so no fun there. We decided to skip the games and plan the food.

Now this is an area where we always overdo it.  ALWAYS. Every time we have a party we end up with enough food for the entire neighborhood, so this time we planned carefully. Joey offered to make all three of his now famous baked goods - Chocolate Chip Cookies, Russian Tea Cookies and Raspberry Bars. (Yes, DG, we are still baking - even better than a five year old.) He did a beautiful display for the living room and they were delicious. We wanted some savory appetizers, too, so we went with the standard Spinach Dip and I also made a Bake Brie. I love this recipe because you can assemble it in advance, wrap it, then bake it later. You can also decorate it any way you like, so I did a little baby block thing. Tasty as well as cute! We also had some very easy meatballs to round things out.

Okay, so we had the appetizers down, now for the lunch. (Yes, we are still avoiding games.) Gregory is an amazing chef and he made barbecued flank streak and a delicious asparagus salad. He also made Spanakopita. Yumm!! I don't have the recipes, yet, but will post them once I do. I made my usual Sweet Corn Tomalito, which is always a favorite. It's also a great pot luck or party food because you can make it the day before and just reheat it at 350 the day of the party. I also made Brazilian Cheese Rolls and made the batter in the morning. Another tasty timesaver!

Finally, as if we needed anything else, Joey got a cake from Red Ribbon. Don't you think it's beautiful? It tasted as good as it looked so I highly recommend this bakery!

So, the games? Yes, we played them and they were actually fun. For the first game we had everyone fill out advice cards when they arrived, but didn't tell them that they would be read aloud by Karolyn while everyone guessed who said what. That was a complete last minute thing and it was actually fun and funny.  We also had a jar of safety pins and people had to guess how many. It was cute.  Our big game was Decorate the Onesie. We gave each person a onesie pinned on a board. Them we had them pick events out of a hat. The events were "firsts" in a persons life. First date, first day of school, first Folsom Street Fair - things like that. Everyone was given fabric markers and had to decorate their onesie to represent that event. Once all the onesies were decorated, we hung them on a clothes line and had everyone guess the events. While everyone got almost all of them correct, it was still really fun and we enjoyed ourselves.

So, the shower was a big success and we had a good time. Most importantly, we got to give our girl one last party before she becomes a mommy! I made a photo album below. Just flip through the pages. The next time I write about Karolyn it's going to be to announce Peanut's arrival!

Lemon Basil Buttermilk Sorbet


What do you get when you have an overgrowing Aerogarden and an ice cream maker? Well, you get a creative new sorbet, that's what.

I have had my Aerogarden for about a year and a half and this past month was the first time that I actually got some great herbs out of it. In the past I usually got one herb that took over the entire thing and a lot of feeble little herbs struggling to hold on.  This time they are all thriving and I happen to have three kinds of basil - one being lemon basil.

I have never used lemon basil before, but it tastes pretty much like it's name. It's very mild and lemony. I found a recipe on Weight Watchers for basil and lime sorbet, so I adapted it using lemon basil and lemons instead. Not only is this tasty and figure friendly, it's really easy, too. This recipe can be whipped up quickly so if you have an ice cream maker just waiting to be used, this would be a great excuse to pull it out.

Ingredients
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar, granulated, divided   
  • 2/3 cups water   
  • 1 cup lemon basil, fresh, cut into ribbons, chiffonade   
  • 4 cups buttermilk   
  • 3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice   
  • 2 tsp lemon zest
Instructions
  1. Make basil syrup by combining 2/3 cup sugar with 2/3 cup of water in a small saucepan.
  2. Bring to a boil for 1 minute. 
  3. Reduce heat to low, add basil and simmer for 5 minutes.
  4. Set aside to cool.
  5. In a large bowl, combine remaining 2/3 cup sugar with buttermilk, lemon juice and zest.
  6. Mix until sugar dissolves. 
  7. Place cooled basil syrup in food process or blender and blend until smooth. (You can also use an immersion mixer.)
  8. Add cooled basil syrup to buttermilk mixture and mix thoroughly.
  9. Run sorbet mixture through an ice cream maker according to its directions. 
  10. Transfer sorbet to a container and freeze for 12 to 24 hours before serving. 

Happy 4th Everyone!

July's Menu - Cleaning Out Clutter

For a long time I have been working on personal growth. Trying to change things I thought needed changing and enhance things about myself I wanted to keep. In the past I didn't do this in a very focused way. I just kind of winged it as I went along. A little smattering of this and that, here and there, and whatever else came to mind. While that made for some interesting discoveries about myself, it wasn't really getting me on the road I needed, or should I say, wanted to be on. My journey seemed a little bit slow.

A couple of months ago I decided to take a more focused approach to this whole personal growth thing; and, for me it seems to be a much more successful. I joined Health Month to get my daily tasks in line, started 750Days.com to get my writing going, and joined Weight Watchers. To some this seemed a bit like an over achiever, but trust me, I am anything but that. The time just felt right and I went with it. I trusted my intuition and things are swimming along successfully.

The other day in the car it came to me that now would be an excellent time to do something I have long known I needed to do, but have really been putting off - clearing out the clutter in my life. When I say, "clutter" I mean all clutter. Clutter in my kitchen, clutter in my closet, clutter in my head. There is all kinds clutter around me and I can organize my tasks, track my weight and go to therapy all I want, but there is not going to be any room for the new things I want in my life until I clear out some of this clutter taking up valuable space and just getting in the way.

This is not going to be an easy task. I like my clutter. It's familiar. I am used to it. And, my God, what if I need it someday?! You know what they say - as soon as you throw something away you are going to need it. Well, it's probably time for me to take that saying and get rid of it with the rest of the clutter I don't need.

I have to admit I am also kind of afraid to start going through my clutter so I am going to start with something easy - the kitchen. Things in the kitchen conveniently have expiration dates so there really isn't much debate on what I should keep and what I should throw away. I keep thinking how great it would be if everything had an expiration date. Well, I guess some things do. Some of my clothes definitely have expired and their date is just screaming out to me. It's highly doubtful I will have occasion to wear lime green velvet pants any time soon. (Don't even ask.) And, the days of tight little shirts are far gone. I guess for a lot of tangible clutter it will be rather easy to figure out what stays and what goes, but what about all that clutter in my head?

Wouldn't it be great if hurt, anger, resentment and all those other bummer feelings had expiration dates, too? None of them are really necessary, most are stale,  and they all just clutter up my life. If I could only say, "Oh, I don't need to be angry at that ex-boyfriend anymore. That anger expired in 2006. Time to throw it out."  Or even better, "Sean, you don't need to still be embarrassed about that thing you did in high school. That expired with Hall & Oats."

You know what? Maybe feelings can have expiration dates. I certainly can tell which ones serve me and which ones don't. Why not just decide which ones have expired and make a game of it? In any case, I do get to choose whether or not to hold on to them and when to let them go. So along with that can of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup, that John Kerry t-shirt, and that Netscape for Dummies book I think I will toss out those feelings that clutter up my mind and bog me down.

So, July's menu is all about cleaning out clutter. I need to make space for some new ingredients in my life.

Deep Fried Poached Eggs


Last Saturday Joey and I were catching up on our DVR shows and watched Claire Robinson's Five Ingredient Fix on Food Network. The concept of the show is to make a delicious dish in five ingredients or less. The first few times I was skeptical, but after trying several of Claire's dishes I have to say she knows what she's doing and you really can make something delicious with only five ingredients.

The episode we watched last Saturday, "Reservations for Brunch," featured three brunch items and one cocktail. All looked delicious, but one really caught my eye - Deep Fried Poached Eggs. These little decadent treats looked amazing, but to me, they looked way to fiddly to make. I mean, poaching eggs in and of itself is a huge pain, so the throught of breading and frying them seemed way beyond my patience level. However, I was intrigued and watched as Claire skillfully poached the eggs and gently placed them in the flour, beaten eggs and panko. While I was watching I thought there was no way I would ever make these things no matter how delicious they sounded. That was until the next morning.

When I woke up on Sunday the first thing I thought of was those darn eggs. I just couldn't get them out of my head. Yes, it was just like that Kylie song, over and over and over. To keep myself from going mad I decided to make them despite my hesitation. I have tried poaching eggs before and always failed miserably. However, maybe Claire had a secret poaching method and I would never really know until I tried. Besides, I knew I was going to keep thinking about these things until I made them.

I followed Claire's instructions to the letter. I made an ice bath, boiled the water, lined the cookie sheet with paper towels and prepared my work station with all the ingredients. The first thing that went wrong was the poaching. Claire said you didn't need vinegar in the water. Well, my eggs looked like jelly fish. When I took them out of the ice bath and placed them on the paper towels they stuck. Breading them was a nightmare and each egg broke in the panko. Grrrr! I was mad, but still determined so I started over. This time, I did put vinegar in the water to stiffen the eggs. (I probably added a bit too much, but remember I was cranky by this point.) Another thing I did was line the cookie with wax paper rather than paper towels. The rest I left exactly the same. The result? Success!!! I did it! My eggs poached perfectly and with a little love and care I was able to bread them with no problem. Frying them was the easy part and they were delicious. Per Claire's suggestion I placed them on heirloom tomatoes and nothing else. If I were to do it again, and I probably will, I would add a little basil on the tomato with some balsamic vinegar and olive oil. They also would be great over spinach.

So, a dozen eggs later I mastered deep fried poached eggs. The recipe is below. Just make sure you have lots of patience and plenty of eggs in case you mess up!

Ingredients
  • 4 large eggs, whole, plus 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cups panko breadcrumbs
  • Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 7 to 8 cups vegetable oil
  • 1 large heirloom tomato, cut into 4 thick slices

Instructions
  1. Prepare a bowl with ice and water. Line a sheet pan with paper towels.
  2. In a 5-quart pot, bring 6 cups water to a boil over moderately-high heat. After the water has reached a boil, turn off the heat. Crack each egg into a ramekin and quickly add to the water. Once you have added all the eggs, cover the pot and set aside for 3 minutes.
  3. Using a slotted spoon, very carefully lift the eggs out of the water and directly into the bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Remove from the ice water and place on the prepared sheet pan.
  4. Spread the flour on a plate and put the beaten eggs in a shallow bowl. In another shallow bowl, stir the panko with salt and pepper.
  5. Carefully dust 1 poached egg in the flour, dusting off any excess. Transfer the poached egg to the beaten eggs, and then transfer with a slotted spoon to the panko. Coat with the panko and carefully place on a plate. Repeat with the remaining eggs.
  6. Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan over high heat until a candy thermometer registers 350 degrees F. Using a slotted spoon, place 1 panko-coated egg into the oil and fry until golden brown, 10 to 15 seconds. Transfer the fried egg to paper towels to drain. Repeat with the remaining eggs.
  7. Season the tomato with salt and pepper. Place 1 tomato slice on each plate and top each slice with an egg.

Happy Pride!

Today is the start of Pride weekend in San Francisco and for some reason I really have my pride on this year. I think I am getting to an age that I really am appreciating my community and feeling it's importance in my life.

When I was very young I remember watching TV with my Great Grandmother and seeing the Pride Parade on the news. I looked over at her to see if she would start spouting anti-gay slurs like my Grandma always did, but she just looked at me and said, "Well look at that" and smiled. I was 12 and that one gesture let me know that it was okay to be who I was no matter what anyone said.

That was 1976 and things have changed a lot in my lifetime. I am so thankful for all those people who have fought so hard for the rights I now enjoy. It amazing to me how far we have come, but equally amazing that there is still so much work to be done. This weekend I am going to celebrate who I am and give thanks to those that have made it possible for all of us to enjoy the freedom we have today.

Happy Pride!

750 Words

For the last couple of months, well 63 days to be exact, I have been keeping a journal on the site 750Words.com. The concept is simple - write 750 words each day which is the equivalent to about three pages. You can write whatever you want in how ever much time you want to take but it has to take place on one day and it has to be at least 750 words. Once a day is over that entry is locked. If you didn't write that day, you can't go back and make up for it.  There are no frills to the site and those are the only rules.

To make things interesting they have added badges to the mix. The first badge you get is for writing three days in a row. Next you can one for 5 days, 10 days, 30 days and so on. You can also enter their monthly writing challenges competing against other or just yourself to complete daily writing for an entire month.  Each day after writing you are taking to a report page which gives statistics into that day's entry as well as some insight into your feelings. The site is free, but you can make a small donation part of which goes to a Seattle charity.

I started 750 Days because I was finding it hard to make time to write in my blog. My thought was that if I trained myself to write daily, the blogging would come more naturally to me. I think it's helping because I am indeed writing in my blog at least two or three times a week. That's a huge step for me! I was barely writing once a month if that before!

750 Words has become a part of my morning routine and I have not missed one day for the last 63 days. It's one of the things I look forward to each morning. I take care of my birds, make a cup of coffee then sit down with 750 Words and my thoughts. I don't write anything in particular, but each day something comes out and I gain new insight about myself. I like doing stream of conscious writing and by the end of the session I feel much more grounded than I did before.  It gives some order to this chaotic mind of mine. Nothing really profound comes out of my writing, but I am doing this for me and no one else. This is my time.

If you have been thinking about having an online journal but can't seem to keep it up, I totally recommend 750 Words. It will give you just enough structure to keep you motivated without feeling confining. If you stick with it I promise you will get hooked with that first badge and after a week or so it's going to be part of your routine as it is mine.

Russian Tea Cookies

I know it's strange that one day I am writing about Weight Watchers and the next I am back to cookies, but this is the final recipe in my Joey Baking Series.  Besides, Weight Watchers isn't really about denying yourself things, but rather portion control. You can have all the baked goods I am writing about as long as you don't have too many in one sitting like Marya.

Russian Tea Cookies always remind me of Christmas and this most recent Christmas was the first time Joey made them. As with all of Joey's baking these are perfect. I always find that Russian Tea Cookies are the cookie that you only end up getting one of for some reason, so what a treat to have an entire plate full! Joey most recently made these for Karolyn's baby shower and we also put them in the gift bags.

They key to making these perfectly is a good cookie scoop. If you don't have one I totally recommend getting one. They are only about $11 and, if you bake, you will use it often. Another thing you need is patience, of which I don't have, so we let Joey do all the baking. He's better at it anyway. This recipe is based on Anne Thornton's from the Food Network show Dessert First.

Ingredients


  • 1 1/2 sticks butter
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • Salt
  • 1 1/3 cups roasted, salted, chopped pecans
  • Confectioners' sugar, for rolling


Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Add the butter to your standing mixer, put it on medium speed, then add your sugar right into the bowl. Turn it up so it gets nice and fluffy. 
  3. Stop the mixer and scrape down the edges. Continue to beat it until it's almost white. 
  4. Add your eggs. Keep the mixer on low and add them 1 at a time. 
  5. Wait to add the other egg until the first one is fully incorporated into the butter and sugar. 
  6. Add the almond and vanilla extracts.
  7. Add the baking powder to the flour and whisk really well, fully incorporating the baking powder into the flour and making sure any little clumps of flour are broken up.
  8. Add just a pinch of salt. 
  9. Add the flour mixture slowly to the butter mixture. 
  10. Add in the pecans on slow speed.
  11. Scoop the batter with a small ice cream scooper, melon baller, or even a soup spoon, just make sure they are all the same size. And don't worry about spacing them out too much on the baking sheet, they aren't going to spread out, they're going to stay like little balls.
  12. Put the trays in the fridge for an hour or so. You want the butter to harden up, making the cookies crispy and delicious when baked.
  13. Bake for 15 minutes until they are golden brown. 
  14. While still warm, roll them in confectioners' sugar. It will adhere slightly to the cookies, looking like snowballs.

Another Weight Watchers Goal Met - 5%!

Last Saturday Joey, my friend Gregory and I threw a baby shower for our girlfriend Karolyn. Naturally, there was lots of food and naturally we ate it! We had cookies, baked brie, spinach dip, barbecue....we had a lot. I was completely prepared to have not lost any weight or even gained weight so image my surprise on Sunday when I weight in and found that I lost weight and met a new target! That's right, I lost 1.2 pounds and reached my 5% Target. How I managed that, I am not sure, but who cares! I am still on track and you know how I love getting those little stars!

One thing that is making me giggle a little is how the Weight Watchers tracker keeps telling me I am losing weight too quickly. Now if this were really the case, I would be worried, but in reality it's not. I am averaging about 1.5 pounds a week. So why is the tracker so worried about me? Well, one week when I put in my weight I put the decimal in the wrong place, putting me at 21.5 pounds. The tracker totally freaked out and changed my daily points to 95 points a day and put me on a maintenance program. (For a reference I am currently at 41 points per day.) I corrected my weight but the tracker was not listening to me. One would think it would know I hadn't shrunk down to 10% of my body weight in one week, but whatever. I needed to fix this, but could not figure out how. I tried everything even putting my weight at 400 pounds. The tracker still wouldn't reduce my daily points. Long story short, I finally figured out how to fix it, but the tracker is holding on to that 21.5 pounds and reminds me with each milestone that I am losing weight too quickly. Who knows, maybe it's really smart and thinks I am trying to trick it. Whatever the case, I am healthily losing weight and am very happy with the program.  The tracker can warn me all it wants as long at the program works!

Raspberry Bars

One of our most requested recipes is for Joey's raspberry bars. These have to be the most delicious and dangerous things he makes. He just made a batch for Karolyn's shower and thank goodness we gave them all to Gregory because otherwise I could kiss my Weight Watcher's good-bye for the week.

There aren't a lot of ingredients in these, but sometimes it's the simplest things are taste the best. While Joey almost always sticks to raspberry preserves for this, he did make them with the lemon marmelade I made a few weeks ago and those were equally as good. He did, however have to remove all the rind in the marmelade so I don't know how often one would want to do that.  I think these are something that are perfect just the way they are - simple and delicious.

Ingredients

Crumb Mixture
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 cup Land O Lakes® Butter, softened
  • 1 Land O Lakes® All-Natural Egg

Filling
  • 3/4 cup raspberry preserves*

Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 350°F. 
  2. Combine all crumb mixture ingredients in large bowl. Beat at low speed, scraping bowl often, until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. 
  3. Reserve 2 cups crumb mixture; set aside.
  4. Press remaining crumb mixture on bottom of greased 8-inch square baking pan. 
  5. Spread preserves to within 1/2 inch of edge. 
  6. Crumble reserved crumb mixture over preserves.
  7. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until lightly browned. 
  8. Cool completely; cut into bars.

* You can substitute any type of preserves, but I am still partial to raspberry.

Birdie Muffins

A few weeks ago we took our lovebird, Ray, to the vet for his annual checkup. We don't actually take all the birds each year, but rather cycle one bird in each year. It's pretty expensive and, unless there seems to be something wrong, every few years per bird seems just fine.

As always my veterinarian, Dr. Dustin, gave me the pellet speech. If you have a bird you totally know what I am talking about. "Pellets are much better for the bird because they provide 100% of the nutrients that they require and they will live longer, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah." Now I love Dr. Dustin.  Honestly, I do. I love everyone at Bay Area Bird Hospital and consider myself blessed to have such a great avian vet in my city. However, I do not want to feed my birds pellets. It's not that they are too expensive. I would pay any price if I meant it would keep my birds healthy. The fact of the matter is, none of my birds like pellets. I don't blame them. I tried them and they taste horrible. I wouldn't want to eat them either. I have tried all of them on the market and whether they are sunny fruit flavored or summer garden delight, they taste like cardboard. Even Wild & Spicy didn't get by flock going. (Yes, that is a real flavor.)  I have mixed them into vegetables and fruit; hidden them in seed; and tried to make them fun by hiding them for my birds to discover. No interest. I even bought birdie muffin mix and baked for them. What do you think happened? Well, look at the picture. They taste exactly like they look. They were gross.

They say that pellets provide the exact number of nutrients birds require for a healthy life and I am sure they do. I have tried to tell Max, Ray, Billy and Mojoe that but it went about as far as telling a kid to eat liver because it's good for them. I am fully aware that my birds aren't children, but they still can taste. They are are also very expressive when they like something. Max purrs when he sees a blueberry and Mojoe can hardly wait to get to his morning breakfast of Italian Parsley and quinoa. They may not be children, but they are my kids. I know what they like.

There are countless articles on best practices to convert your birds to pellets all of which, in my opinion, are just ways to force your bird into eating them. Given the choice the bird is not willingly going to eat these things - period. I could decide I want to feed Joey pellets, too, so he could live longer, but I don't think it would make him very happy. I certainly wouldn't be joining him in that little experiment.

So, why am I ranting about all this? Well, because I really started to feel guilty about not being a good provider for my birds. It didn't matter that in addition to seed I gave them fresh fruit and vegetables, cooked them grains and gave them vitamin supplements. I still felt like I was doing something wrong. Then I started thinking about how hard it must be to be a parent of real children. With all the dos and don'ts floating around out there how does one make the right decisions? It must be a total nightmare. I asked my friend, who's a mom, about this and she said, "You do your best with the information you have and follow your heart. You will do what is right." That was the wisest advice I have received in a long time.

On my follow up visit with Ray, I asked my vet to check his weight and she remarked how healthy he was, how beautiful his feathers were, and what a wonderful disposition he had. In short, he's a pretty amazing bird. I noticed she stopped pushing pellets after she told me that. I guess I am doing something right after all.

There are always going to be things I should or shouldn't do, but I am just going to do my best and follow my heart. I think we all should.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Last March we took part in an online bake sale on The Tomato Tart to raise money for Japan. I really wanted to participate because it meant a lot to me, but I really don't bake. I decided to anyway and to my surprise my chocolate chips cookies raised $250! (That's right DG. Suck on that!) Since that really was a huge bid we wanted to do something special and Joey wanted to try his hand at making the cookies. We based our recipe on Bobby Flays, which is delicious, but both times we made them they came out a bit flat and crispy. After a few tries Joey came up with some additions that took these cookies from really good to amazing. That's right, he thought outside the box and took it to the next level!

You'll notice that this recipe calls for brown muscavado sugar. While you can use regular brown sugar, I would highly recommend you use the muscavado because it really adds something to the taste and texture and is the magic ingredient to these cookies.

Ingredients

Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper or silicon pads.
  2. Whisk together the flour, salt and baking soda in a large bowl.
  3. Place the butter in the bowl on an electric stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment and beat until smooth, about 1 minute. 
  4. Add the sugars and continue mixing, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes longer. 
  5. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and the vanilla extract, beating until incorporated.
  6. Add half of the flour and mix until just incorporated. 
  7. Add the remaining flour, again mixing until just combined. 
  8. Remove the bowl from the stand and fold in the chocolate chunks.
  9. Using a small ice cream scoop, spoon the dough onto a baking sheet, leaving at least 2 inches between each cookie and bake on the middle rack until the cookies are lightly golden brown and still soft in the middle, about 14 minutes. 
  10. Let cookies rest for 2 minutes on the baking sheet before removing them to a baking rack with a wide metal spatula. 
  11. Let the cookies cool on the baking rack for a few minutes before eating. 
  12. Repeat with remaining dough.


I know this totally goes off our diet, but we are making them for our friend's baby shower and had to share the recipe. I had just two tonight. 7 delicious points and worth it!

My Scale Must Be Shot!

Sundays are our usual weigh-in days, but since Joey and I were going to a party last night, we wanted to weigh in a day early just in case we overindulged. Not the most honest thing to do, but what the heck. I have been very good on my diet so imagine my horror when I stepped on the scale and had only lost .4 pounds. That's right! Am measly .4 pounds. To make matters worse, it's the second week in a row that I have only lost that much! That makes my total weight loss for the month only 9.8 pounds. Not 10. No, no, no. 9. %*#()* 8.

Well, of course there must be something wrong with my scale! What else could explain it? You can't tell me that I have passed on company birthday cake, ignored the M&Ms dancing around the office, and dutifully took only tiny helpings of the Chinese food provided last Friday for lunch for only .4 pounds! My scale is to blame and that is all there is to it! I went right to Amazon to find a more reliable and trustworthy scale. As I was reading reviews for different scales I began to notice a trend in them. The people that were giving one particular scale negative reviews (there were over 800 positive ones) all seemed mad about one thing - they weren't losing weight. As I began to make fun of them a big ole mirror appeared in front of me. I was no better than they were. I was doing the exact same thing. Maybe it wasn't the scale's fault. Maybe it was just me.

It's hard to admit to myself that I am not getting any younger. My body is changing and with it so is my metabolism. I am just not going to lose weight at the same pace I did even five years ago.  At least not with a little extra effort. It's going to take a lot more than just counting points to lose weight this time around. I am going to have to add some serious exercise. Nothing major, just something more than waddling around the lagoon at lunch time.

So, what did I do? Well, instead of buying a new scale I got on my gazelle that has been taunting me for the last year and exercised for 30 minutes. I opted to walk to my friend's party instead of taking the bus. I also decided to put in a little weight training each week to get that metabolism moving along. If that's what it's takes then I am going to do it.

And, the scale? Well, I did end up getting a new one, but that's only to satisfy the shopaholic in me and nothing to do with the diet.

Prepara Herb Saver

Joey and I spent this past Easter with our friend Gregory. He made us the most wonderful brunch and one of my favorite items was the melon balls with mint chiffonade. The mint really added something to melon. For such a simple dish, it was delicious.

The next weekend we decided to have the same thing so we bought some melon and some mint. Now a little mint goes a long way, so what do you do with the rest? Usually I wrap it up and it goes into the fridge never to be seen again. What a waste. This time however, I had my Prepara Herb Saver that Joey had gotten me for Christmas. I hadn't really tried it yet so now was the time.

We first saw it on Oprah's Favorite Things. She said it prolonged the life of your fresh herbs for up to three weeks. I found it hard to imagine that Oprah cooked, let alone saved her leftover herbs, but I really did want one. Once I got it, I just kept forgetting to use it. Finally, I could see if Oprah was telling the truth. I placed my herbs in the herb saver and placed them in the refrigerator where they gradually found their way to the back corner. About a month later I was slicing some strawberries and thought it would be nice to have some balsamic vinegar and mint on them and remembered the mint I had bought after Easter. Surely, it still couldn't be good, but it was worth a shot. Besides, I needed to get it out of the fridge anyway. Well, to my surprise it was still fresh. Not fresh like, "Oh, this isn't so bad" but really fresh. It was like I had just put it in there yesterday. The herb saver proved it's worth and now I use it all the time. So Oprah was right, as if I ever doubted her.

During the holidays these little babies were pretty hard to find and rather pricey. Now that some time has passed you can get one on Amazon for about $20. If you use fresh herbs a lot and find them going to waste it will pay for itself pretty quickly.

Health Month

May has been all about personal growth for me. Setting goals and doing my best to meet them. Some of these goals have been huge like Weight Watchers. However, there are so many smaller goals that I want to achieve but until this month have had to real way to track them. That is, until I discovered Health Month.

Let me backtrack a bit. I am one of those people that constantly think in terms of "shoulds." I should exercise more.  I shouldn't drink so much. I should have known better. What do you do with shoulds? They are completely useless and they just clutter your head with even more useless guilt. And who likes Guilty Gwen anyway? Problem is, Guilty Gwen and Should-Do Sheila are totally BFFs and are usually found hand in hand.

So what I would usually do is, after hanging out with the girls for awhile (GG and SDS) I would decide that I was going to make changes.  I would make a list of all my shoulds and look at them, then forget about them until I needed to feel guilty again. Not very fruitful, is it? This has been going on for a long time for me - a really long time. I guess you could say that Guilty Gwen and Should-Do Sheila were more than just occasional guests, they were roommates. I started to think that this was just part of life and I would just have to get used to them being there. Like you get used to that little crack on the wall that no one can see but you. Then along came Health Month.

Health Month is an online game that helps you track goals. Like the name implies, many of these are health  related, but it's not limited to physical health but mental health as well. Actually, it's not limited to anything. Whatever goal you want to set in order to improve your life is game. And, really, when you improve your life you are naturally improving your health. Right?  For me, it's a way to organize Should-Do-Sheila and keep her on track thus preventing Guilty Gwen from ever having a need to come around.

So, it works like this.  Each month there is a kind of contest.  You choose the rules you would like to follow for that month.  These were mine for May:















When you are choosing your rules, choose carefully because once the month starts you can not alter your rules in any way.  You can see most of my rules were pretty easy, but all of them were important to me.  At this time you also choose your "reward" in you win the game and a "punishment" if you lose. I chose to buy a new outfit for myself if I won and to donate $10 to Health Month if I lost. If you do decide to pay, it's a $5 donation to the developer which is cheap and totally worth it in my opinion.

So, now you are ready to play. You start off with 10 life points. Each day you are asked to check in. If you follow all your rules you get game points and fruit. If you don't you lose a life point. If you still have life points at the end of the month you "win" the game. Sounds simple, right? Well, the game itself is simple, but following all the rules was harder than I thought! I lost 3 life points during May but was able to earn new ones as the month went on or purchase one with fruit. While the month isn't over yet, I can confidentially say I won. More than winning the game, though, I have won something much more important - confidence! So much so that I have chosen 20 rules for next month.  How that for confidence?!

In addition to playing this game on your own, you can also choose to be on a team. Teams can compete with each other and other teams making this a giving Health Month a social aspect. Right now I am playing against myself really. It's one thing that I do just for me. It might be interesting to play with someone else or have a team. Wanna play?

What the Heck Do I Order?!!


Last Friday my friend and I went to a Photoshop Power User seminar at the convention center in South San Francisco. I didn't even know they had a convention center in South San Francisco (it's a separate city) let alone what restaurants would be around there so I had no way to plan my meals. Planning my meals is half of my diet strategy! Turns out the only thing near the convention center was Houlihan's. So if I wanted to eat breakfast and lunch that was my choice.

Breakfast was pretty easy.  I had an egg, english muffin and some fruit. I could roughly guess that it would be about 7 points and it actually turned out to only be 5.  Regardless, I knew I was safe on that front. We happily enjoy breakfast and waddle off to the convention center.  The seminar was fantastic and the first half of the day went really quickly suddenly - Lunchtime!

Back to Houlihan's we waddle, but what I thought would be a pleasant lunch turned out to be a Weight Watchers nightmare. I opened the menu and there was nothing, absolutely nothing that I saw to order. (If you want to see for yourself you can view it here.) I searched and searched and searched.  The first thing that caught my eye was the Fish Tacos, but being with chipotle mayo and being breaded in panko I didn't think that would be a good choice. I kept looking over and over the menu and then thought that maybe I should just look up their menu online to see if they had nutrition values, but guess what? My AT&T iPhone is permanently set to "Show Zero Bars When Phone Is Needed" so I was totally on my own.

So, what did I do? I did exactly what I always tell myself not to do. I ordered a salad. I know, I know, I know that it never turns to be as figure-friendly as it should be, but I have been trained just like the rest of us to think that a salad is the "healthy choice." It certainly wouldn't be an evil hamburgers. No, no, those hamburgers are the sole reason that America has an obesity problem. So, I choose my "healthy" Seared Ahi Tuna Salad and hoped for the best.

When I got home I diligently looked up the nutrition values online. So, I bet you know the outcome. The salad was much higher in calories and points than I expected. No surprise there, what did surprise me was when I did a little comparison of foods on the menu and their points value:

Item
Calories
Fat
Points
Ahi Tuna Salad
1074
67
28
Hamburger
703
13
18
Veggie Burger
825
14
21
Fish Tacos
876
39
23

So look at that!  A plain old hamburger is almost 10 points less than that "healthy" salad.  10 POINTS! What's more shocking is that the hamburger is even less points than a veggie burger, even with all that fiber veggie burgers have!  And, those fish tacos, you got it, fewer points than the salad.

So what did I learn here.  Well, I reaffirmed my suspicion that most entree salads are not figure-friendly. Far from it! More importantly, I learned that if I really need a go-to item when faced with a menu I am not familiar with that old fashioned hamburger is probably my safest choice. Imagine that! I guess it's not the culprit in America's obesity problem.

When Temptation Comes A Callin'

Let's face it, whenever you are trying to change your lifestyle at some point Temptation Tammy is going to show up and ask you to party. This is true whether you are dieting, exercising, quitting drinking or just wanting to focus more.  I would be a big, fat liar if I said she hasn't visited me yet on this journey.  She's been knocking on my door all week and yesterday I thought I would just open the door a tiny bit and she just barged right in.

It all started when I decided that I deserved to treat myself to a little Taco Bell. I did my due diligence and went right to their website and looked up the nutrition stats.  It's all right there on their nutrition page. In fact they even have a nutrition calculator where you can add up all the items you want to have and determine their total values.  All I wanted was a simple bean burrito and a taco, so I looked them up. Armed with this information I went my handy Weight Watchers points calculator and found it right in my points range, albeit a bit high for lunch at 13 points.  No matter, I rarely used up all my points and I deserved it. I was having a hard day, goo!

I got my taco and burrito and I have to say it was satisfying. Just what I wanted. I had let Temptation Tammy in and now it was time to show her the door. Problem was she wouldn't leave. I no longer wanted to have a figure-friendly meal for dinner.  I wanted quesadillas. I wanted burritos. I wanted chocolate!  Oh no!  So, what did I do? Well, I had a quesadilla and some chocolate.  Okay, I had two of each.  I was terrified to add up my points, but thankfully I made it - barely. I ended the day with zero points to spare. I was lucky this time, but next time who knows.  But you know what?  If I screw up more next time  I am certainly not going to throw in the towel. I may have "gone off" my diet yesterday but that doesn't mean I haven't been dieting nor does it erase all the work I have done for the last few weeks. That's just stupid.  What is does mean is that I need to be careful. I need to watch myself and do my best to keep Temptation Tammy away from my house.  So, I told her my friend Greg was having a party this weekend.  He's too skinny anyway.

Week 3 - Progress Report


Well, we made it three weeks and I have to say, so far so good. Both Joey and I have lost about 9 pounds each or an average of 3 pounds a week. This is a little bit more that we both expected, so we are happy.

So far this hasn't been all that difficult.  Neither of us are eating all the points allotted to us, so we certainly aren't starving.  We are, however, eating less.  I am serving about half the portions for dinner as I did in the past.  For dessert we are having fruit or Skinny Cow desserts. (They are marvelous, by the way.) We are also taking full advantage of artichokes being in season and are eating those twice a week for dinner.  They are amazingly satisfying. We have been steaming them and having them with salad dressing mixed in with non-fat yogurt. You get all the flavor and hardly any of the calories.  We had a ton of salad dressing in the fridge and I want to make use of it rather than toss it out for not being figure-friendly. Artichokes have no points so we are basically having 1-point dinners twice a week. Hey, if it works, why not?

So, 3 pounds a week, 3 weeks, we have it made, right? Not quite. Now comes the hard part. I know myself well enough to know that the novelty of this new adventure is going to wear off very shortly. I can already see myself thinking, "Oh, what would one donut hurt?"  That's where one gets into trouble.  To battle this I am being doubly diligent in tracking my points and making sure I have plenty of satisfying snacks available to me at all times.  We still have quite a bit of road ahead and I need to be prepared.

Cuties - My Snacking Saviour


Joey and I started Weight Watchers at just the time - Springtime!  With all these fruits and vegetables coming into season we can alway find something healthy and delicious to snack on.  My favorite snack has been Cuties.  What's a Cutie, you ask?  Well, Joey's my cutie but California Cuties are actually two different fruits: Clementine mandarins and Murcott mandarins. Clementine mandarins are harvested from mid-October through mid-January; Murcott mandarins from mid-January through April, though they are still selling them in the markets. They come in 3 or 5 pound bags and are about $1.00 a pound here in California.

Cuties are perfect for me because they are easy to carry, easy to peal and are packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber!  Just two provide me with all my vitamin C and have 4 grams of fiber, which helps curb hunger.  I probably eat about six of these little guys throughout the day when I am at work. It has really helped me resists the jars of Jelly Bellies and M&Ms that are all over the office!

So, if you need a healthy snack, I would pick some of these up soon before they are gone for the season! They are the perfect snack and at zero points are the perfect choice for someone on Weight Watchers.

Eating Out on Weight Watchers

One of the hardest things about dieting is what to do when you go out to eat.  It's bound to happen sooner or later and for us, it happened sooner. Actually, quite soon - our first week. We don't eat out that often anymore, but the past couple of weeks I have been out three times.  I am proud to say that each time I managed to eat a nice meal and stay within my points.  I didn't even dip into my points allowance!  So, what did I do?  I bet you're thinking that I must have had salad each time, but have you ever really done a calorie count of the meal salads you get when you go out?  A chef salad can be 25 points. To give you a reference, Joey gets 32 points for an entire day. An entire day!!! That's a lot of points for a salad. I don't know about you, but if I am going to blow a ton of points on something it sure as hell is not going to be a salad! When I go out I want to have a real meal. However, I have to admit it's hard to know what is within your points range and what's not, but with a little planning it is totally possible to eat out, have a wonderful meal and not break the points bank.  That's the key - plan ahead!

Check out the menu online - In this day and age you'd be hard pressed to find a restaurant that didn't have it's menu online. Take advantage of that and decide what you are going to have before you go out.  It's surprising how much you can get if you order correctly.  When Joey and I went to Fog Harbor Fish House, we really were able to get a huge meal: appetizer, soup, salad, and an entree! If we hadn't decided what we wanted beforehand we probably would have ended up ordering one thing we thought was healthy and ended up still hungry. Worse yet, that one thing could actually have a zillion points without us knowing it. We each had 25 points for dinner so, with my 25 points, a-plannin' I did go.

The first thing I did was go over the menu at home and see if there was anything that I just had to have. In this case there was. One can't really go to Fisherman's Wharf and not have clam chowder. That was a good start for me and when I found out that a cup was only 5 points my tummy did a little jig. A cup was all I needed and that gave me plenty of points for an entree. I looked over the menu and checked off the things I knew I couldn't have, but then I had a thought - we could order anything we wanted if we split it.  Luckily, Joey and I like the same things and we decided on Fish & Chips. Since we were splitting it, what would have been 16 points was now only 8.  Yippee, that's only 13 points total! Now, I may be counting points, but I have 12 points left and I am going to use them! I certainly am not going to let them go to waste.

Since we were sharing the entree, why not share a salad as well? I know I said that salads can have tons of points, and they can, but there are ways to cut that.  We had the Crab Louie and ordered the dressing on the side.  The thing was huge and really was just crab and vegetables.  The only thing that had points was the crab and the dressing.  That turned out to be only 6 points and that left me with 6 left.  Yay, appetizers!

Appetizers were hard, especially at a place like this.  There was a lot of cheesy, bready, deep-fried goodness on that front.  We could split away and still would go over our points. I gave up on that one.  We didn't really need an appetizer anyway.

The meal was delicious, satisfying and best of all in our points range.  We did it!  Appetizer, soup, salad and entree.  Yep, we did get to have an appetizer after all and a tasty one at that! I noticed while we were waiting for our table that they had oysters on the half shell. I figured a couple oysters would be about 6 points, but guess what? It's six oysters for 1 point!  How awesome is that?  Our entire meal was only 20 points.  We might have been able to use our 5 extra points for dessert, but honestly we were too full for that.

Weight Watchers - My First Gold Star!


Okay, it's not really gold, but close enough.  I earned my first 5-pound star!  I have to say I am a sucker for virtual praise and have found it works quite well for me. Getting recognition for small successes really motivates me and these little icons hold special meaning.  Joey also got his star but he isn't nearly as needy as me on the praise front.

These past two weeks have not been hard at all, but we have had to make conscious changes.  The only thing I am really noticing is that I am eating a ton of fruit and, I have to admit, I am bitchier.  The fruit thing is good, the bitchy thing is not, so let's pray that Cranky Kelly takes a hike fast.

So, congratulations to us!  There is still a long way to go (26 more pounds for me), but we are off to a great start and we need to celebrate each milestone along the way no matter how small. By the time we're finished I will have a horn o' plenty of little Weight Watchers stars!

Weight Watchers Update


Last week, on May 1st, Joey and I decided that we were going to take the plunge and join Weight Watchers.  It's been almost two weeks now, so I thought I would give an update on how it's going.  I intended to write this earlier in the week, but have't been able to post since Wednesday with all those blogger problems.  No matter, now is as good a time as any to give an update.

First off, I am so happy we took this step.  It's really true that every journey starts with one step. Often times, though, that first step is the hardest to make.  For me, I get all caught up in the timing and planning of that first step.  So much so that I never end up taking it!  I am glad to say with this particular adventure, we just pretty much decided, let's do it and if we don't like it we will find out later.  I am happy to say we like it - a lot.

The past couple of weeks have been fantastic.  Yes, we have had to get adjusted to a slightly new way of eating, but it's not nearly as hard as I remember it being the last time we did this over six years ago.  I am noticing some key differences, though.  The new points system really encourages you to eat a lot of fruit and vegetables.  Since almost all fruits and vegetables are 0 points (yes, ZERO) I am eating a whole lot more that I ever have in my life.  Before a banana would be 1 or 2 points; and, let me tell you, I was certainly not going to waste a precious point on a banana when I could use it on pasta! I know, I know, that makes no nutritional sense, but when you are dieting and have some choices you are not going to make the smartest ones! Anyway, now I can eat as many bananas as I want and I am!  That along with all sorts of delicious fruits and vegetables that I now kick myself for not taking advantage of before!  There was all this yumminess right at my disposal and I just ignored it!  But, there is not use kicking myself for not doing yesterday what I am now doing today.

I have been very diligent tracking my progress with the online Points Tracker, but I am going to be honest and say that little tool, while has vastly improved, needs some more work. I cannot tell you the number of times I have input all my information for the day and have it not save.  This is very frustrating!  Besides that, it is a good tool, though, and some of the new features they have introduced, like the Progress Reports are really great.  It gives me a graphical representation of my entire week!

I guess you can see that I am happy with Weight Watchers.  As the weeks go on I will be writing more about it along with more detailed reviews of its various components. For today and just wanted to get it out there that for Joey and me, so far so good! We are losing weight, eating better and generally feel better about ourselves.  That, in itself is worth the price of membership!

Oh, I guess I should also share our progress!  Ready for this?  We both lost 3.8 pounds our first week! Can't wait to see what the scale says tomorrow!

Brazilian Cheese Rolls


I have been meaning to post this recipe, but never got around to it.  While this certainly does not fall into our new Weight Watchers Program, it is too good to keep to myself!

Bob's Red Mill Tapioca Flour, 20-Ounce (Pack of 4)A few weeks back my friend Marya told me about this fantastic recipe she had made over the weekend.  I love sharing recipes with Marya because they are usually easy, tasty and often fun.  Most importantly the ingredients are accessible.  I don't know about you, but nothing drives me crazier than recipes with this one ingredient that you have to travel to India for.  Before I go on, this does contain one ingredient that you most likely don't have in your pantry - Tapioca Flour.  Out here in California, or at least in San Francisco, it's super easy to find at the supermarket.  I am sure any Whole Foods has it.  There is one more thing you will need for this - a mini muffin pan. For my first batch Marya lent me her pan as well as provided me with some tapioca flour.  Since I can't do that I am just going to say this.  The first time I tried these I ordered the pan right away - they are that good!  It was only $9.99 and, to my surprise, I have used it for two other recipes already.  I have also made these rolls no less than six times!
Baker's Secret 116424001 Basics Nonstick 24-Cup Mini Muffin Pan
Now that I got all that out of the way you might be asking, "What are Brazilian Cheese Rolls?"  The best way to describe them is they are airy, chewing, cheesy bites of goodness.  They are like little popovers in that they puff way up, but the bottom is really chewy.  All I can say is I love them.  They make a great accompaniment to any meal couldn't be easier to make.  All you need is a blender!  You can even make the mix ahead of time!

Marya presented me with two recipes for this little goodies: one from Simply Recipes a favorite site of ours; and, the other from Our Best Bites, a site by two Mormon mom's which is also becoming a favorite of mine.  I actually tried both recipes on the same weekend.  The verdict?  Well, I am probably going to get my gay card revoked, but Our Best Bites won hands down.  The rolls were much puffier and lighter.  There isn't a big difference between the two, but the difference make a difference!

You must try these out.  I guarantee you will be making them on a regular basis.

Ingredients
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup tapioca flour (sometimes labeled tapioca starch) no substitutions
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 C grated cheddar cheese* (preferably medium or sharp)
  • 1/4 C grated Parmesan cheese

* You can use any combinations of cheeses. My favorite is Monterey Jack. You can also add herbs. Last time I added Rosemary and it was delicious!

Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Place egg, milk, oil, tapioca flour, and salt in blender and blend until smooth. Add cheeses and pulse 2 times.
  3. Immediately pour batter into a mini muffin tin (if your muffin tin isn’t non-stick, spray lightly with non-stick spray first), filling each well about 3/4 full, or just slightly less.
  4. Bake for 15-20 minutes until puffed and golden.
  5. Remove from oven and cool for a few minutes before removing rolls from pan.
  6. Serve warm.

Notes

These actually don’t reheat well so I recommend making and eating fresh. I can almost guarantee you won't have any leftovers.

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About Sean & Joey

Joey and I are just a couple of guys living in San Francisco. I love cooking and we both like trying new things. Planning our meals is one of our "together" things. I hope you enjoy our blog! - Sean

Dedication

This blog is dedicated to the two most important people in my life - my mom, Ernee Jean O'Brien, and my partner Joey Concepcion. They both have showered me with unconditional support and love and have always encouraged me to be myself. I will always miss my mom and I don't know what I would do without Joey.

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