Friday, October 23, 2009

Pasta Pomodoro & Cocola

We went to Pasta Pomodoro at Santana Row last night. It had been a while since we ate there. We enjoyed it the last time and were in the mood for Italian. Unfortunately, like a lot of chain restaurants, the quality of the food has diminished over the past couple of years. We were totally disappointed.

My husband had a Caesar salad and frutti de mare. I had minestrone soup, mista salad, and butternut squash ravioli. I had the dressing on the side and an appetizer portion of the ravioli. We both had their bread with pesto/olive oil dip. For the most part, the food was mediocre, at best.

The bread had good texture for dipping, but not a lot of flavor on its own. The pesto dip was mostly olive oil. They mixed pesto with olive oil, apparently substituting the pesto for balsamic vinegar in the traditional bread dipping sauce. Pesto is mainly olive oil, so adding more oil just made it all taste like oil, with little basil flavor. Traditional basil pesto has parmesan and pine nuts, although I've seen it made with walnuts, too. If there was any cheese, I couldn't see or taste it. It was too smooth to have nuts in it.

Our starters were pretty ordinary. The vegetables were fresh, which was nice. But the flavors in the dressing were nothing special. I could get the same flavors in bottles from a local grocery store. The minestrone was beans, zucchini, broth, & croutons. They garnished it with the same pesto they used in the bread dip. It was good, but not great.

Our main courses were the biggest disappointment. Paul said his dish had no flavor. But I tasted it and it was just fishy. Not that good, fresh fish flavor, but that bitter fishy taste of fish that's not spoiled, but not entirely fresh, either. It probably was previously frozen, thawed fish. And it was overcooked, with that rubbery texture it gets.

My ravioli was good, at first. I liked the ravioli, sage leaves, cheese, and browned butter. But then they did something really weird--they crushed amaretti on top. I know orange veggies can be sweet, but pairing amaretti--ameretto-flavored cookies--with Parmesan cheese and sage just didn't work for me. That sugary flavor, laced with cinnamon, clashed with the rest of the dish. I probably wouldn't have ordered it, had I read the menu more carefully and noticed the amaretti in the listing of ingredients.

The last thing that was an issue for me is one of my pet peeves. I really, really hate it when they either ask me to keep my salad fork or, even worse, take it off the plate when they clear it and put it on the table for me to use for the main course. Is it really that much trouble to bring a fresh fork? The best service in recent memory for me was when we went to Julia's Kitchen at Copia, which, unfortunately, is no longer open. Not only did they bring fresh silverware for each course, they looked at what you ordered and brought the appropriate silverware.

We declined dessert, opting to head for Cocola, where we'd enjoyed their desserts and pastries. They still have the same good food. We had the Pumpkin and Milk Chocolate Mousse, a new seasonal dessert. My first bites were good. But I think overall, that dessert needs to be rethought. The pumpkin mousse was wonderful. I liked the milk chocolate mousse and the chocolate cake on the bottom. But, there was also a raspberry gel on the top and a hazelnut filling in the middle of the pumpkin mousse. These additions caused the dessert to have too many flavors competing for your attention. I would use a flavorless, and colorless gel on the top. The red didn't really make the pumpkin orange, which seemed to be its purpose, and I'd rather keep the pumpkin pie brown and skip the sweet, fruity flavor of the raspberry gel. I'd also omit the hazlenut filling. Hazelnuts are too strong a flavor to pair with pumpkin mousse.

All in all, it made me wish I'd had time to go home and cook--or that we'd chosen one of the other restaurants in Santana Row. And chosen a different dessert at Cocola. They have so many wonderful ones. This was the only one I've ever eaten that I didn't like.

On other fronts:

Friday is my weigh in day. I lost 1.5 pounds this week. It's 10% of my total body weight and .5 pounds away from the first goal I set myself. Go me!

I'm testing another recipe for one of the magazines today. I'll write another post about it when I'm done.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Week-and-a-half Later...

I've been so busy this past week and a half. I look at my blog and think--I need to write a post, and then I don't have time. Today I do.

Paul got a job. YAY!! We don't have to move. I may be able to resurrect my cooking project--or come up with a better one. It's not as much money, though, so I may not have much budget to play with.

I'm 2 pounds from reaching the first weight goal I set. I don't expect to reach it this week, though. I'm at a point where the weight loss is slower, which is fine with me.

Today I'm going to test another recipe. This one is for a bread pudding with a bourbon sauce. I'm going to have to find someone to give some of it to because it makes way too much for Paul and I to eat by ourselves.

I'm considering signing up for NaNo again. I sign up, get started, and then life gets busy and I don't finish. But I miss writing, which is why I keep signing up for NaNo--to give me a goal and a reason to write. If I do, I won't start any specific cooking projects, or other new projects, until January. The holiday season is way too swamped for a choir singer and I won't have time for new projects.

I guess my blog is back to being a mishucalanza, what with writing about weight loss, cooking, and writing.

More Lessons from the Weight Loss Front

I started this post on Oct. 11 and finally got it edited today.

So, my week of eating almost exclusively Filling Foods is over and I've been doing points again. That's been going well. However, the contrast pointed up a lesson learned.

I was reading that people tend to eat the same volume of food regardless of their calorie level. So, as an example made up by me, if you normally eat 10 cups of food every day and try to lose weight by cutting back to 7 cups, you might lose weight, but you will feel hungry. However, if you substitute 10 cups of food that totals fewer calories than the 10 cups you normally eat, you will lose weight and you won't be hungry. That's the problem with just eating less of what you usually eat. You miss the volume and feel hungry and deprived. But if you eat high-volume, lower calorie foods, like those on the Filling Foods list, you'll lose weight without feeling hungry.

The problem with that is that food habits are among the most difficult habits to change. Mine have changed drastically over the years, but change has come very slowly. I didn't think I really got the baby step concept because I was always falling short of my goals. But I see that over time, I've made changes that are baby steps and those baby steps have helped make following the program easier.

I eat produce at both lunch and dinner. When I don't, I tend to feel less satisfied and overeat. I love veggie soups and salads. I prefer to eat both, but one or the other works.

I've discovered that if I have fresh fruit at every meal, I don't crave desserts as much. That makes it easier to be super picky about what desserts I eat and in what quantity. My current favorite is one Godiva chocolate gem. They come in truffles or caramel and they're one point. Although they're small enough to eat in one bite, I take several small ones and really taste what I'm eating. And it's enough.

I choose whole grains whenever I can. When I bake, I use whole grain flours as much as I can. Not all recipes will work with only whole grain flours, but I've discovered that I can substitute up to half of the flour with whole grains in most recipes. I experiment with various amounts until I find the maximum I can use without losing the flavor and texture.

I eat vegetarian more often. I eat less red meat than I used to. I eat a lot more beans and oatmeal. The next thing I'm adding is cooked polenta and cooked rice to the precooked foods in my freezer. I also plan to make yogurt cheese mixed with roasted garlic and herbs or salsa or whatever I feel like putting in it to use as a dip for raw vegetables. Yogurt and yogurt cheese can also be used to stretch the mayonnaise in a creamy salad dressing.

I've read books where the author talks about changing their diet to eliminate processed and junk foods. They often claim that just changing to more healthy food like that will cause you to lose weight. But it doesn't, not all by itself. I tried that idea and it didn't work for me. You still have to watch portion sizes and choose the higher-calorie foods less often and in smaller portions. The Weight Watcher point system helps me with that aspect of my weight loss efforts.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Lost .5 This Week

I lost another half pound this week. I went back to counting points, but I've eaten mostly from the filling foods list. What's made the difference today is that satiety factor. I've used 1 point, that I didn't use last week, for a 1/2 tablespoon of maple syrup in my oatmeal and 1 tablespoon of shredded cheese on my huevos rancheros. Those flavors make a huge difference in how the food feels, whether it's satisfying or not. So, I think this is a good plan.

I don't want this blog to become a weight loss blog, even though that's been my focus for the past couple of weeks. I have a new recipe to test. This one is for a traditional bread pudding--and it's NOT diet friendly. However, I'll make it, taste and analyze it. Do the survey. And give the rest away. Or freeze it in small portions to have as a treat, now and then. I need to figure out the points before I do that, so I can decide what's a good serving size and freeze it in that size portion.

I think my next thing will be to go for a walk. I need to get out of here for a while and I have an errand that I can do. It's a beautiful day out there, too. A perfect fall day to be outside--not too hot and sunny.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Almost the End of Week 1

I had a couple more thoughts about the Filling Foods thing today. I didn't have many points left. I only had a couple of activity points, so I was really working hard to figure out what to eat that wouldn't require that I count points. And, I made extra sure to get in some activity.

It wasn't really difficult to find no point foods. I did eat one corn tortilla, but I had activity points to cover it. The big thing was that it took quite a while to put it together. I'd drained some yogurt. I mixed that with garlic I'd roasted and fresh basil and a little salt and pepper. I spread that on celery sticks. That's a keeper for a snack, whether I'm doing Filling Foods or not. I made what amounts to vegan huevos rancheros--black beans, eggs, no-fat salsa and the corn tortilla. It all was very filling. I couldn't finish it. But I was hungry a couple of hours later, so I ate the rest then.

So now I have to figure out what to do about dinner. I think I can easily fit it into the remaining activity points. So, this was a good program for me. I may keep it as a backup or as a way to break a plateau. We'll see how weighing tomorrow goes.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Thoughts About Week 1--So Far

Tomorrow is the last day of my first week following the Simply Filling Foods plan. It's been an interesting week. I won't know if I lost weight until Friday, but there are other things to write about besides the number on the scale.

When WW says the food is filling, they're not kidding. I did an experiment and calculated what the points would have been had I been tracking. If you don't count the Weekly Points, I've averaged 15 points per day for 5 days. When you include the Weekly Points, I've averaged 22 points per day for 5 days. Since my point level is 26, not counting weekly or activity points, if I were tracking points, I'd be under daily points by an average of 4 per day for 5 days, and not using any weekly or activity points. So, hunger is not one of the problems I'm having with this plan.

However, satiety, feeling satisfied, as opposed to simply not being hungry, is a problem for me with this plan. I really like the food on the list. I can see basing my food plan around them. But this week as I worked out the plan, I discovered that it's super low fat unless you use points. That wasn't really a problem. I don't eat a lot of added fats.

It also ended up being super low carb for me. You can't eat bread without counting points, and I guess that's a huge problem for me, since I keep talking about it. Rice, whole wheat pasta, and potatoes are all once a day foods. I'm not clear whether you can eat them more often if you count the points for the other meals. That question isn't addressed in the printed materials or online. Other grains and starchy vegetables are filling foods and can be used to up the carb count. I don't feel well when I eat very low anything. I feel better if I balance the various food types, although I do go overboard with the vegetables sometimes. I love vegetables!!

The way to make that work would be to plan meals more fully than I do now. I often take a look in the pantry and see what there is. Bread, pasta, rice and potatoes are staples that can become the basis for a meal. Soup and sandwiches are a favorite. Stuffed baked potatoes are another. If I keep the filling foods around, I can still do those kind of meals. I just have to have some things cooked in advance or ready to go. That works fine with this plan, until you head to a restaurant--any restaurant.

One restaurant meal can easily add 10 or more points to the total, even when you choose filling foods like salads, with dressing on the side; grilled meats; steamed vegetables and brown rice. A lot of restaurants are putting their nutrition information in the menu, online, or in brochures on the tables. I use them, whenever possible, to help make the best choices or, if I'm splurging, to figure out as accurately as I can, what the point count is. One restaurant meal can eat up enough of your weekly points that the built-in restrictions of this plan can make me feel like this is a diet, not a lifestyle.

I think that after this week, I'm probably going to go back to the regular point plan. But, I'm going to use what worked for me. I want to base my food plan around the filling food list, but count the points so I can include the variety of foods I'm used to eating, especially my homemade whole grain breads.

At the beginning of the week, I feared I'd overeat, since I could eat as much of the filling foods as I wanted. I started using the hunger scale and discovered that 1/2-1 portion of anything is plenty. I'm going to continue using the hunger scale. I think that, more than changing the food plan, is what made a difference this week. I'm going to continue to stop eating, as I did with the filling foods, when I'm full--even if I don't hit all the points for the day, with the caveat that if for some weird reason I'm below the minimum anyone should eat, I'll eat more. I don't think that's going to happen. If that were a likely possibility, I wouldn't need to lose nearly a hundred pounds.

I'm also not worried about nutrition, since I love the healthy food we're supposed to eat. My weight problem is mainly due to not knowing when I've had enough of those healthy foods. That's where the hunger scale comes it. If I know I'm going to be recording it, I pay more attention to when I'm hungry and when I'm full. I think that's a better way for me to use the program effectively.