READ THIS BOOK: “At Home” by Bill Bryson

July 31, 2011

I recently finished reading a fantastic, fascinating book, and, if you couldn’t tell by the title of this post, I think everyone should rush out and buy it.  Or borrow it from the library, like I did.  It’s called “At Home” by Bill Bryson.

I first learned about the book last Christmas – my father was given a copy as a present, and I thumbed through a few pages of it, and was hooked.  I got back to Los Angeles and looked it up at the library, but all 27 copies in the Los Angeles Public Library system were checked out.  I added my name to the ‘hold’ list, but there were over 100 people in line ahead of me – and, soon, I forgot all about it.  Six months passed, and, a few weeks ago, I got an email saying that a copy was waiting for me at my local branch!  I went the next day and picked it up.  It’s a long book – 452 pages – but I could barely put it down.

The book is subtitled “A Short History of Private Life,” and the book is exactly that.  Each chapter is named after a room in Bryson’s own home – built in 1851 – and covers the history of that room and the sorts of things that go on in them.  Chapter 15, The Bedroom, for example, not only covers the inventors and history of things like mattresses and pillows, but also how people living in various eras thought and dealt with two big issues long associated with beds: sex and death.  The end result is a captivating read that’s full of information about so many different things.  There’s stories about the history of common household objects, from appliances to mousetraps to wallpaper, and they’re told alongside stories about the often eccentric people who created them.  Bryson’s research is thorough, and he can tell a story like no one else can, and I never thought any of it was dry or boring.

I thought I’d share a few passages from the chapter that most pertains to this blog: Chapter 4, The Kitchen.  I didn’t know any of this stuff, and I’m barely scratching the surface of the information this chapter contains, let alone the book as a whole.

Did you know that for a long time, cookbooks didn’t actually contain any measurements?

“Until almost the middle of the [nineteenth] century instructions in cookbooks were always wonderfully imprecise, calling merely for ‘some flour’ or ‘enough milk.’  What changed all that was a revolutionary book by a shy, sweet-natured poet in Kent named Eliza Acton.  Because Miss Acton’s poems weren’t selling, her publisher gently suggested she might try something more commercial, and in 1845, she produced Modern Cookery for Private Families.  It was the first book to give exact measurements and cooking times, and it became the work on which all cookbooks since have been, almost always unwittingly, modeled.”

We think of lobster and caviar as delicacies now, but in Victorian times, it was quite the opposite:

“Lobsters bred in such abundance around Britian’s coastline that they were fed to prisoners and orphans and ground up for fertilizer; servants sought written agreements from their employers that they would not be served lobster more than twice a week.  Americans enjoyed even greater abundance. New York Harbor alone held half the world’s oysters and yielded so much sturgeon that caviar was set out as a bar snack.”

This passage, about the fruits and vegetables available in the nineteenth century, really grabbed my attention, given my love for finding types of produce I’ve never tried before:

“Fruits and vegetables seemed almost infinite in number.  Of apples alone there were, almost unbelievably, more than two thousand varieties to choose from… At Monticello in the early nineteenth century Thomas Jefferson grew 23 different types of peas and more than 250 kinds of fruits and vegetables.  (Unusual for his day, Jefferson was practically a vegetarian and ate only small portions of meat as a kind of ‘condiment.’)  As well as gooseberries, strawberries, plums, figs, and other produce well known to us today, Jefferson and his contemporaries also enjoyed tayberries, tansy, purslane, Japanese wine berries, damsons, medlars, seakale, screwpine, rounceval peas, skirrets (a kind of sweet root), cardoons (a thistle), scorzonera (a type of salsify), lovage, turnip-cabbage, and scores more that nowadays are encountered rarely or not at all.”

Lastly, I spend a good deal of time, and I suspect lots of you do as well, thinking about what I’m going to be eating, and making sure my food intake is balanced and varied.  It’s never occurred to me that, for a vast majority of the time that humans have been on earth, we had no idea that what we ate could directly affect our health:

“Until well into the nineteenth century, the notion of a well-balanced diet had occurred to no one.  All food was believed to contain a single vague but sustaining substance-’the universal aliment.’  A pound of beef had the same value for the body as a pound of apples or parsnips or anything else, and all that was required of a human was to make sure an ample amount was taken in.  The idea that embedded within particular foods were vital elements that were central to one’s well-bring had not yet been thought of…  So it was with bewildered Europeans who for a very long time died in often staggering numbers without knowing why.”

That paragraph actually came from the Dining Room chapter.

Just flipping through this book to write this post has me all riled up again about how much I enjoyed reading it.  I don’t want to return it to the library – so maybe I’ll just have to buy my own copy for my shelf.  You can get your own copy too: here’s the book’s Amazon page – in addition to hardcover, there are audiobook and Kindle versions available, and the paperback comes out in October.

Keep it up, David!


Vegas Road Trip Food

July 30, 2011

I’m writing this post direct from sunny (and hot) Las Vegas, Nevada!  Whew, is it hot!  As I write this, it’s 94 degrees and 8:30am.  It’s supposed to get up to 104 today!  I’m used to heat, living in Los Angeles, but it feels different here.  Here, every time I open a door and walk outside, the heat slams into me and for a second it feels like I’m moving slower, moving through jello, until my body adjusts.  It’s not stopping me from going outside, that’s for sure, although I have reaffirmed my love of air conditioning.

I came to Vegas for a specific event, and I know I promised the other day I’d share what that was, and I will.  Soon.  I have a full run-down planned.  I just need a little more time to process it all.

In the meantime, I’m feeling really proud.  And smart.  And here’s why:

Since I began losing weight, I’ve given a lot more thought to eating while travelling.  It’s hard to eat well in general, let alone when you’re removed from your normal setting and your normal routine!  There have been trips in the past where, although I didn’t admit it at the time, I was worried about eating smartly while away from home.  Last Thanksgiving springs to mind as one of those trips, but I channeled my worrying into creating a game plan to get me through the big meal, made sure I exercised, and ended up losing a pound that week (!).

Creating game plans works for me, so, before coming to Las Vegas, I put one together.  Vegas is full of temptation, food and otherwise, and I wanted to guarantee some healthy options for myself.  The other big thing I to consider was the 4-hour drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas – that’s a lot of time in the car, and I didn’t want to arrive in Las Vegas ravenous, nor did I want to reply on food I found on the way, because between Los Angeles and Vegas there’s a LOT of desert, and the exits that do have civilization tend to be limited to fast food and gas station mini-marts.

So – the question became: What will I eat on my way to Las Vegas, and what will I eat when I’m there?  Think… think… think… I know!  I’ll bring food with me!  That’d be the answer to both questions!

First step: bring my beloved Passions cooler bag:

Remember on Passions when both Tabitha and Endora had their magic wands (they were witches, after all), and the magical forces streaming from their wands crossed, and it caused the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the whole town and killed Maureen, who asked Sheridan, as she was dying, to raise her son Mark?  No?  Only me?

Before I left the house, I threw a couple ice packs and 2 bottles of water in the bag, as well as all the remaining produce I had on hand.  Knowing that I’d be leaving town for 6 days, I limited my produce on my last shopping trip to stuff I thought I’d be able to consume before leaving, and I did pretty well – I ate everything but 1/2 a cucumber, 1 zucchini, and 2 apples, all of which came along for the trip:

Apart from 2 lemons and 1/2 a head of garlic, my kitchen is now devoid of produce!

Then, on the way out of town, I stopped at Whole Foods.  The goal of the stop was to pick up food for lunch (to be eaten in the car) and dinner (to be eaten upon arrival in Vegas).  I also decided to buy some food for the next day in Vegas (which would eliminate temptation and save money)with the idea that when I got to the hotel, I’d clear out the mini-bar in my room and stash the refrigerated items there.

Wanna see what I bought?  Here’s my haul.

1) MORE FRUIT!

Apples and bananas travel so easily, so they were easy choices, and a couple cartons of washed and cut-up fruit (one had melon, the other had strawberries and blueberries).

2) MORE VEGETABLES!

A 1-lb bag of baby carrots, and a big carton of broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower.  As soon as I pulled out of the parking lot, I wished I had gotten some celery too, but I didn’t go back.

3) PREPARED FOOD!

I found this prepared vegan burger and grabbed it for dinner when I got to Vegas.  It has 370 cals and 3.5g fat.  The patty was good and flavorful and had a nice texture, and the bun was huge.  I could have tossed away half of it and saved those calories, but I didn’t.  What I didn’t think about was that, once I got to my room, I’d have no way of heating it.  So I ate it cold.  No big deal.

4) SNACKS!

From left to right, we have:

  • A single serving bag of chip’ins.  Sometimes when I eat burgers I crave chips or fries, so I bought these popcorn chips to satisfy that fix for dinner.  They’re 120 cals, 2.5g fat, and only 230mg sodium (that’s pretty low for salt in chip-type snacks, isn’t it?).
  • Just Persimmons.  These caught my eye and I just had to try.  I had bought (and enjoyed) a Persimmons for the first time last fall, and unlike some dried fruit products, this has no added sugar, salt or preservatives.  The only ingredient in the bag is persimmons – hence the title!  The bag has 4 servings, and each serving is 90 cals with no fat or sodium.  I knew I’d have to mindfully eat these – it’s easy for me to overload on dried fruit and consume way more calories that I wanted.
  • Turkey Jerky.  This is the in-house Whole Foods brand.  Each of the 3 servings in this bag has 60 cals, no fat, and, shockingly for jerky, only 230mg of sodium.  Most jerky products on the market have three times more sodium (or more), so whatever it is Whole Foods is doing to cut the salt from the jerky, I hope they keep it up!  I bought this as a protein source for Day 2 in Vegas.
  • Soy Jerky.  Never seen this before, and was curious!  The bag had 3 servings, and each had 45 cals, 1g fat and 125mg sodium.  I ate the whole bag in the car, and it wasn’t very good.  I wouldn’t buy it again.  It tasted like a dehydrated version of seitan, a wheat-based meat-substitute that I’ve bought (and enjoyed) before.  I suppose it’s an option for vegetarians craving jerky, but since I eat meat jerky (see previous bullet), I don’t need to buy this again.

The plan worked!  Lunch, consumed in stages during the drive, was the soy jerky, the cucumber and zucchini, the broccoli and carrots from that veggie carton, an apple, a banana, and about 2 servings of the persimmons.  Dinner was the veggie burger, the chip’ins, the cauliflower, and 2/3 of the melon.  I ate the final 1/3 of the melon as a snack a little later.

That left plenty of food for Day 2 in Vegas.  It won’t be enough to make it through the whole day, but it’s a great start.

Oh, and part of my plan was thwarted by the absence of a mini-bar in my room.  D’oh!  But I did have an ice bucket, so I filled that with ice and kept the cooler bag zipped all night.  In the morning, the ice was melted but the food was nice and cool.

Time to hit the hotel gym!

Keep it up, David!


Blossom

July 29, 2011

I saw my friends Heather and John for the last time the other night.  Not the last time ever, the last time for now.  They’ve been in town for work for the past month and a half, but in a few days, they’re packing up and moving on.  It’s been great having them around, and hanging out with them has resulted in some great meals.  Heather and I had a lovely dinner at Bottega Louie; all three of us lunched at Mas Malo; and I won’t forget any time soon our downtown urban picnic and the amazing sandwich for five that I brought along.

Bottega Louie and Mas Malo are both downtown, and the other night we met up for dinner at another downtown restaurant that Heather and John love.  I think it’s hilarious that friends that visit once a year now know downtown Los Angeles better than I do after living in Los Angeles for nine years!  Hilarious, and perhaps a touch sad on my part, but hey – I’m glad they have places they love, because there are a lot of restaurants downtown to choose from.

Blossom Restaurant is a small little Vietnamese restaurant on Main Street, where Heather and John went a bunch of times last year when they were here, but hadn’t managed to make it back this year.  They wanted their Blossom fix before hightailing it out of California, and I was more than happy to join them.

Heather’s actually in that picture, on the right, in the window, reading the menu, partially obscured by foliage.

A few minutes before I took this picture, while I was walking from the subway stop to the restaurant, I passed a not-uncommon sight in Los Angeles: a film crew!  They was lots of equipment and crew members on the sidewalks, and whole blocks of parking spots coned off.  I came across this sign, which answered my first question: “I wonder what they’re filming?”

Prime Suspect,” by the way, is an upcoming detective show on NBC.  They must have been filming in one of the buildings, because nothing exciting was happening on the street.  I love the first sentence on the sign – very Big Brother!

On to the restaurant.  I don’t eat tons of Vietnamese food – not for any particular reason, it’s just not a cuisine I’ve been exposed to very often.  I can’t think of the last time I’ve been to a Vietnamese restaurant – it’s been a few years, at least.

I started off with an order or vegetarian spring rolls.  In some other Asian cuisines, spring rolls are fried, but Vietnamese spring rolls are fresh and wrapped in rice paper.  These had tofu, greens, and herbs, and a great peanut dipping sauce:

They were good, and the peanut sauce had a nice spicy kick to it, although I think I would have preferred a little less tofu and a little more greens.

Then I had the shrimp pho soup.  Pho is a staple in Vietnamese cuisine, and it’s eaten for all meals of the day.  It’s a broth-based soup with rice noodles, cilantro, onions, and a protein (traditionally beef, but also chicken or shrimp, and you can find vegetarian versions too).

My big bowl of soup:

There were a lot more shrimp on the bottom.

The fun thing about Pho is that more ingredients come on the side, as garnishes that you can stir in: a big pile of bean sprouts, fresh Thai basil, limes , and hot Thai peppers.  Heather, who also got the shrimp Pho (I definitely copied her, not the other way around), and I shared this pile of garnishes:

I don’t eat a lot of soup on a regular basis.  I never really crave it, because most of the time it seems weird to me to be consuming a hot liquid in a hot climate like southern California.  The pho, however, was fantastic.  Flavorful, filling yet light, and how could I not get behind any dish that comes with a plate of produce as garnishes?

Maybe I should seek out some Vietnamese restaurants in my neck of the woods… for any Angelenos out there – do you have a favorite Vietnamese spot in the valley?

Oh, and like I mentioned in my Hollywood Bowl post, another perk to riding the subway downtown is the built-in stairs workout.  It’s 5 flights to get down to the train platform and 5 flights to get back out – so when I go round-trip, that’s 20 flights I’m ascending or descending.

Screw you, escalators!

Keep it up, David!


Two-A-Day

July 28, 2011

BREAKING NEWS!  Later this morning I’m heading out of town for a few days, to Las Vegas and then Seattle.  I’ll be back next week, but don’t you worry – the blog ain’t shutting down. I have new posts planned and in the works (I’m bringing my computer with me), so keep comin’ back for fresh content.  The Vegas part of my trip is for an event that I’m incredibly excited for.  I’m so excited that I don’t wanna to jinx it by telling you what it is!  You’ll hear about it soon enough, right here, on this blog.  Now back to our regularly scheduled programming…

= = = = =

On Tuesday, I did something that I haven’t done in a loooong time: a Two-A-Day.

Two-a-Days are what sports teams call days where they have two practices.  When I was the swim and water polo teams in high school, we would have two-a-days all the time (although I don’t remember calling them that – the term might be used more by football teams).  We would have morning practice before school, from 5:30 until 7am (not 5:30 arrival, that’s 5:30 in the pool), and practice after school, from 2:30 until 5pm.  That’s 4 hours of practice a day, and we would have Saturday practices as well!

I’m not on a sports team now, but it seems like a most fitting word for Tuesday’s accomplishment: two separate killer workouts in one day.  I’ve had particularly active days before, where I would have a dedicated workout, and then, later, end up having a good long walk with a friend or something, but I can’t remember ever, in this weight loss process, have two workouts as tough as these on the same day.  Oh, and not only on the same day, only 3.5 hours apart!

First Workout: 2pm.  I had a session with my personal trainer, Craig (check out his website and his Facebook page).  It’s been almost a month since my last Craig post, but I’ve been going every week and working with Craig, who’s been teaching me tons about weight-lifting form, technique, how to use various machines, how to goose my cardio, and so on.  They’re hour-long sessions, and Craig pushes me to try and do things I don’t think I’m capable of doing, and every session leaves me exhausted, sore, educated, and proud.

This time, Craig had me warm-up a little on the bike, and then by taking a run around the block (which I just calculated to be 1/2 mile) with 3-pound weights in each hand.  Then he had me do a ton of burpee-like things where I held a wooden box, jumped as far as could with it, then put it down and either did a couple push-ups on it, or a couple mountain climbers.  Ugh, tough.  That was followed by a ton of walking lunges, with me holding a 10-pound weight over my head, and that was followed by 6 minutes of very brisk, steep inclined walking on the treadmill.

I was ready to fall over at this point, but we weren’t done yet.  Craig handed me the 3-pound weights again, and I took off for another 1/2 mile run around the block.  After that, Craig taught me a couple different types of lateral pull-downs (for the back), and then I jumped back on the bike, where I did intervals of military presses while pedaling away for 10 minutes.  We finished with 60 tricep dips, which I learned to do for the first time.  I didn’t think I’d be able to do them, but I proved myself wrong!

When I left the gym all I wanted to do was lie down, and not get up for a while.

Second Workout: 6:30pm.  Richard Simmons’ class at Slimmons!  Richard was wearing a kilt (he has them in 5 different colors, naturally), and part of our warm-up was to bagpipe music.  Always something different at Slimmons!  Here’s the video from Tuesday’s class – I’m the one wearing all-black, with the white bandanna around my forehead:

Richard class was, like they always are, really fun and high energy.  I was wondering before class if I’d be able to make it through, given the workout I’d already completed, and I did.  For most of it, actually, I felt really great – like this was the day’s first and only workout – but by the time the toning part of the class came around, my arms felt ready to fall off.  Richard’s classes don’t have tons of toning – about 10 minutes, really – but tonight those 10 minutes were tough.

Here’s a picture of me after class – it’s not a great picture, as I took it myself in my car, but this is me after 2.5 combined hours of vigorous exercise:

You can’t tell that my black shirt is completely drenched.

About the bandanna:  I was digging through my closet a few days ago, and found a stash of bandannas I forgot I had.  Lately, I’ve been annoyed at how my glasses slip down my sweaty nose when I’m exercising, so I just starting wearing the bandannas as a sweat-absorber.  Tuesday was the first day I’ve worn a bandanna to Slimmons, or to a session with Craig, and I got comments at both gyms:  Nina, another of Craig’s clients, said that with my all-black clothes and my white bandanna, I looked like a ninja, and Richard, when he first saw me before class, said “Look at that bandanna!  You look like the Karate Kid, I like it!”  He proceeded to call me ‘Karate Kid’ all through the class.

A bandanna as a sweat absorber works, by the way.  After I snapped the above picture, I took the bandanna off, opened my car door, and wrung a remarkable amount of my sweat from the fabric:

See all that wet asphalt?  That’s my sweat.

On Wednesday morning I could barely pull myself out of bed, I was so sore.  But after breakfast (an english muffin with jam, and some juice I made from 3 my free tomatoes, 2 oranges, and an apple) and some chores around the house, I pulled on my swimsuit for the first time since May 15th, and went to swim some laps.  It felt great to be in the pool again, and although I didn’t push myself very hard, I managed to crank out 2000 yards before hitting the showers.  The breakdown:

  • 1000 warm-up (200 free, 200 IM, 200 kick, 200 pull, 200 IM)
  • 500 free (at about 70% exertion)
  • 300 free (at about 85% exertion)
  • 200 cool-down

So.  That’s three workouts in about 24 hours.  Holy crap.

Keep it up, David!


Chart Update / Mango Nectarines

July 27, 2011

Two topics today.

1) Chart Update.  It’s Wednesday, which means yesterday was Tuesday, which means I got on the scale and weighed myself.  Down a pound!  Definitely moving in the right direction, especially after last week’s depressing 3-pound gain.  Here’s my chart:

That puts me at 238 pounds – a loss of 164 pounds.  I looked back over the chart, and it’s the 10th time since March that I’ve weighed in at 238 pounds – yay plateau!  Hopefully it’ll be the last time.

The week since my last weigh-in went really well.  I ate well (no convenience store pig-outs), and exercised 6 of the 7 days, including a boot camp class, a floor session with personal trainer Craig, and, of course, a Saturday morning at Slimmons.  This Saturday, Richard Simmons was dressed as… a cop.  His theme was “You’re Under Arrest!” and he played all-new music.  Here’s the video from that class – it’s long (10 minutes), and I didn’t watch all of it, since I was there, but you can definitely catch me in it – I’m hard to miss with my bright orange shirt!

Sunday was a rest day, and I knew I was due for a rest day because Richard’s class on Saturday was absolutely exhausting.  I felt tired and weak the whole time.  By the end, when we were doing the toning exercises, all I wanted to do was put the weights down and walk out.  But I didn’t.  And that was my cue that I was ready for a rest day.

2) Mango Nectarines.  Last week, I bought some new produce at Whole Foods that I’d never even heard of before: mango nectarines.  I love every single type of stone fruit I come across – peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots, and the hybrids between them, like the apriums I tried last week – so the second I saw mango nectarines at the store, I knew I’d be taking a couple home.  Here they are:

Purdy, aren’t they?  That small plate is saucer-sized, to give you an idea of how big they are.

So, when you hear ‘mango nectarine’, does your mind go straight to “could they possibly be a hybrid between mangoes and nectarines?”  Because that’s my mind went.  It was the first question I wanted answered when I started doing a little research.  And the answer to that question is… NO.

The mango nectarine is not related to a mango at all.  They’re called mango nectarines because they supposedly taste just like mangoes, both in flavor and texture.  I’ll be the judge of that.

I found a really interesting website (for a corporate fruit delivery company called The Fruitguys) that gave a little more information on mango nectarines, and nectarines in general.  Regular nectarines don’t look anything like they did 100 years ago:

Early California nectarines were green-skinned and white-fleshed. They were small but produced sweet-tasting varieties like the John Rivers, Gower, and Quetta. The look of the modern red-skinned nectarine came about in 1942 when Fred W. Anderson of Le Grand, Calif., introduced the Le Grand Nectarine. Since then, nectarines have been grown for deeper red color and larger sizes.

As for mango nectarines:

The Mango Nectarine is a cross of nectarine “sports.” A “sport” is a naturally-occurring abnormality in fruit trees. Grower David Kamada from Ito Fruit Company said: “We see one sport in every 40 acres of our trees. You may get one branch that throws off a new variety. When we find it in our orchard, we mark it and then try to propagate it to see if it is something worth keeping.” Growing a new variety takes two paths, grafting or budding. In the spring growers can take a bud from a new sport and put it onto a new limb of a tree. Grafting is a similar process which happens when the tree is dormant in winter. The Mango Nectarine is believed to be a cross of two old-variety pale nectarine sports.

How cool would it be to walk through a huge orchard of fruit trees, and find the one branch on the one tree that was growing a wholly different variety of fruit?

That info really whetted my appetite.  I was ready to taste.  So I cut open one of the mango nectarines…

…and took a big bite:

It does taste like mango!  It’s odd, really, how much it tastes and feels like mango.  After chewing a little bit, the mango gives way to a more standard nectarine flavor, but when you first bite down, you realize instantly how perfectly the fruit is named.

I bought three mango nectarines and I ate all three in one sitting.  Well, I ate 2 and a quarter of them.  One of them was just awful – bitter and foul-tasting, almost like blue cheese, which is a delightful flavor for cheese but not so good for fruit.  I examined the rest of that one for signs of mold or rot, but it looked just like the others.  It was just a bad piece of fruit.

I read online that the season for mango nectarines was pretty short – just July and August – so start looking around now if you want to try a mango nectarine.  I’d definitely buy them again.

Keep it up, David!


Putting Those Tomatoes To Use

July 26, 2011

If you stopped by yesterday, then you probably read all about the free tomatoes that I recently acquired from my friends Matthew and Maggie, who were looking to unload some of the tomatoes that were growing in their yard.

I’m happy to report that I found a great use for some of them (but not all), and that’s what today’s post is about.  What do you do with an influx of tomatoes?  My mind went straight to salsa.  I love salsa, and I haven’t made it in a long time.  What I love about making salsa is that there are tons of varieties, and it’s really hard to fuck up, so, basically, you can’t go wrong.  So I picked up a couple things at the Whole Foods in Porter Ranch, and got busy in my kitchen, making up a salsa recipe as I went along.  The salsa ended up having two new elements I’ve never used before in a salsa, so read on!

One of the things I picked up was a pepper.  I’m not a chile pepper expert, and usually I’d just grab a jalapeno or two, but I was feeling adventurous today, so I picked up a pepper I’d never bought before (my habit of purchasing unknown produce is well-documented here – you’ll have to scroll down).  I came home with these guys:

There’s called pasilla peppers… or so I thought.  I did a little research when I got home, and found this nugget on Wikipedia:

In the United States producers and grocers often incorrectly use ‘pasilla’ to describe the poblano, a different, wider variety of pepper.

So I don’t know what the hell I bought.  But I decided to give them a quick roast over an open flame, which is the first of the aforementioned new elements.  It’s something I’ve seen someone do on the Food Network years ago.  The peppers went directly onto my gas stove, which I turned to medium-low:

Within seconds I could hear them crackling, and every few minutes I turned them to a different side, and soon all sides were beautifully charred:

You take them off the heat, put them on some paper towels to cool, and after 10 minutes, you can wrap them in the paper towel and give them a vigorous rub, which removes the char and leaves behind a lovely roasted pepper:

While the peppers were cooling, but before the vigorous rub, I got the other ingredients ready to go.  First step: pulling out my Tupperware Quick Chef.

The Tupperware Quick Chef is a hand-operated chopper/food processor that I got 7 or 8 years ago when my aunt sold Tupperware, and it’s really handy for salsa making.  I don’t use it often (this marks its first appearance in this blog), and, come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve used it for anything but salsa!

Anyway.  I washed a bunch of Matthew and Maggie’s tomatoes, cut them in half, and scooped out the seeds and extra liquid (so it wouldn’t end up in the salsa), leaving the flesh:

I peeled an entire red onion and chopped it in a few big pieces, and tossed it into the Quick Chef along with some of the tomatoes:

I added a glove of garlic, which I ran through my garlic press.  It might seem silly to press the garlic before putting it into a chopping device, but I didn’t want to risk the blades missing it, and getting a bite with a big chunk of raw garlic.  I also added lime juice.

Then came the other new element that I’ve never used in a salsa before… drum roll please… PLUMS!

I’ve had peach salsa, mango salsa, and pineapple salsa – fruit in salsa is not uncommon.  And since summer is the season for stone fruits, and I had some plums lying around, I thought why not?  I used 4 red plums total.

Then came the pasilla/poblano/whatever peppers I roasted – the only thing left to do to them was remove the stem and seeds and cut them up in a few big pieces:

The top went on the Quick Chef, and I started turning the handle, and about 30 seconds later, I had some fantastic looking salsa.  The Quick Chef wasn’t big enough to handle all the ingredients at once, so I ended up doing two batches (each batch included 2-3 tomatoes, 1/2 red onion, 1 garlic clove, 2 plums, juice of 1/2 a lime, and 1 of the peppers).

Here’s the end result:

Now – what to do with it?  I’ll be honest and admit I wanted nothing more than to go get a bag of tortilla chips.  But tortilla chips are the sort thing that are hard for me to control – an open bag could very well end up being an empty bag in one sitting – so I used some of the salsa as a topping for a salmon burger, and that was my lunch:

I cooked the salmon burger (which was store-bought) in a pan on the stove, in a little Pam.  It’s exactly the sort of thing that would cook up perfectly in my RediSetGo, but I’m not loving my RediSetGo right now.

And yep, that’s celery on the side.  I ended up eating way more celery than what’s pictured – it turns out I like salsa and celery!  The celery has a nice crunch, and the shape of it is perfect for holding onto salsa.

The salsa itself was terrific.  So fresh and flavorful.  The plums made it sweet, and the pepper gave it a little heat (although not too much), and that they were roasted added a nice texture, too!

I still have some tomatoes left… and I might have another idea or two about what to do with them…

Keep it up, David!


Free Food!

July 25, 2011

I’ve known my friends Matthew and Maggie for, let’s see… 13 years now?  All three of us went to the University of Michigan together, where Matthew and I were in the same department, and he and Maggie were dating back then.  Now they’re married, and a few years ago, they bought an adorable house in Silver Lake, about 15 minutes away from me in Los Angeles.

I always have fun with Matthew and Maggie – a few months ago, we went to a firing range and shot some pistols.  It was a big deal for me – my reward for losing 150 pounds, and TOOT TOOT TOOT TOOT…  That’s me tooting my own horn, because it turns out I’m a pretty good shot.  You can see my target and read about our day here.

Back in college, Matthew worked at a party store a block from the building where 80% of our classes were.  I don’t mean party store like where you buy balloons, streamers, and pinatas – in Michigan, a party store is a liquor store, and the counter up front at Matthew’s party store had rows and rows of bins of candy – individual fun-size Snickers, Tootsie Rolls, peanut butter cups, and Laffy Taffy, all for 5 or 10 cents apiece.  I would go in when Matthew was working, often multiple times a week, spend a dollar on an Icee or a Diet Coke, and just shoot the shit for a while, the whole time eating candy – lots and lots of candy.  Matthew didn’t charge me for any of it, and I would leave with my pockets full so I had candy to munch on while walking home or wherever.

A few days ago, more than a decade later, Matthew emailed me to offer me more free food, although, this time around, it was of a much more healthy variety:

We have a ton of tomatoes. You should stop by and pick a few.

Uh, you don’t have to ask me twice!  A few more emails were exchanged with Matthew and Maggie, and on Saturday afternoon I headed over to their house.  Neither Matthew or Maggie were around – but they were cool with me stopping by and raiding their garden.  Maggie had said, in another email, that the tomatoes were “out of control” and that “we just feel guilty that we can’t eat them all” but I didn’t know what to expect until I stepped into their yard.  The tomatoes were out of control. They were everywhere, and they looked great:

One plant was so overloaded with tomatoes that the vines drooped down over the edge of the planter, all the way to the ground:

As I stood there, my entire field of vision filled with tomatoes, a dilemma formed in my head.  How many tomatoes should I take?  Matthew and Maggie were very kind to share their bounty, and made clear that there were more tomatoes than they could handle, but what’s an appropriate amount to me to relieve them of?

I often turn to humor when in a moral quandary like this one, so my first gut instinct was to chop down the plants altogether, so when they came home, they’d see a barren planter and maybe a note that said “thanks for the tomatoes!” with a smiley face.  I think that’d be hilarious!  Alas, that’s not something I’ve ever actually do, so I returned to the issue at hand.

I ended up being rational, and came up with three notions that I thought would be helpful to remember:

  1. I like tomatoes.
  2. I’m going out of town on Thursday for 6 days, so I’ll need a plan for the tomatoes I do take.  (You’ll hear more about the trip in upcoming posts, don’t you worry)
  3. Naturally, I had just bought 2 big tomatoes at Whole Foods a day before I got Matthew’s email, but one of them I’ve already eaten.

Then I started picking.  These tomatoes were ready to go – some practically fell off the vine when I touched them.  Once I started picking it was hard to stop, and soon, I had these in my clutches:

Nine tomatoes, with the largest one (top left corner) about the size of a tennis ball.  That seems like a respectable number, right?  Not quite double-digits.

I looked again at the tomato plants, and realized it didn’t really look like I had even made a dent.  And I also noticed that there were plenty more tomatoes that were up-and-coming:

OH!  Matthew and Maggie also each mentioned, in separate emails, that they had plenty of sage and oregano too, and I could help myself to some herbs as well – but when I got there, in their yard, I couldn’t remember what sage and oregano looked like – they’re not herbs I buy fresh very often.  I felt dumb, but I would have felt more dumb if I taken some leaves off a plant and tried to cook with them, only to realize they weren’t herbs at all!

I do have a plan for what I’m going to do with these tomatoes… and if I get my rear in gear today, it may even be the topic of tomorrow’s post!

Thank you, Matthew and Maggie, for the lovely tomatoes!  Who needs a supermarket with you two supplying tomatoes, Tavi supplying grapefruit and tangerines, and Robert supplying kumquats?  Seriously, all my other friends need to step up and plant gardens or get fruit trees, because getting fresh produce right off the tree (or vine) is completely awesome in every way.

Keep it up, David!


Hollywood Bowl

July 23, 2011

Like I promised at the end of yesterday’s post, I have one more moment that made me feel really good the other day – and it happened at a major Los Angeles landmark.  Since I titled this post with the name of that landmark, there’s no point in building suspense… it’s the Hollywood Bowl!

For you non-Angelenos, the Hollywood Bowl is a huge amphitheater built into a hillside smack dab in the middle of Los Angeles.  And by huge, I mean huge – it seats 18,000 people.  The Bowl is the summer home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and it also hosts all sorts of other concerts: Dolly Parton is there this weekend, Phish is there in August, as is a production of Hairspraythere’s always something going on at the Bowl.  Last night, my friend Jen and I saw the LA Philharmonic perform pieces by Strauss, Lizst, Enescu, and Bruch.

The Hollywood Bowl is a stunning place to see a concert.  It’s nestled in the Hollywood Hills, and once you get up there, it’s so easy to forget you’re in the middle of a major city.  There’s mountains and trees, and the Hollywood Sign, too!

You don’t see the Hollywood Sign?  It’s there, all right… here, let me help you out:

Another great thing about the Bowl is that you can bring outside food and drink with you, including alcohol, so lots of people pack picnics and wine, although Jen and I came empty-handed the other night.

The last time I was at the Bowl was two years ago, when Jen and I saw Liza Minnelli.  It was a great concert – the first time I’ve seen Liza perform live.  I remember when we first arrived and made it to our seats.  This was the summer of 2009, a good six months before I started my weight loss adventures, so I was hovering right around 400 pounds. The row was already full, except for our two seats in the middle, so we had to squeeze by a line of people – never a fun time, especially when you’re 400 pounds, and can’t squeeze anywhere“Excuse me, pardon me, excuse me…” and at the Bowl, in addition to shifting their knees or standing up, people have to figure out where to put their wine glass… their plate of food… the tub of hummus resting on their thigh.  “Excuse me… Oh I’m sorry, was that your foot?… Pardon… mmm, something smells tasty… Excuse me…” It’s a hassle and a pain in the ass.

The section of the Bowl that we were in for Liza doesn’t have seats, it has benches, with seat numbers carved into the backs:

By the time Jen and I arrived at our seats, there was barely any room on the bench left.  I think naturally people tend to spread out a little bit, especially when there’s room, and especially if you want to pass around cheese and crackers and some Reisling, but I when got to my seat, and saw how little space there was for my big body, I felt like an elephant trying to fit into a Miata, after that elephant walked down a narrow hallway lined with people munching on grapes and quiche.

I felt like every pair of eyeballs in the row were on me, and the eyeballs in the rows behind us were on me too, with people certainly thinking how lucky they were that I wasn’t the one sitting next to them.

I felt like, if there wasn’t the chatter generated from 18,000 people in one place, I’d be able to hear an endless succession of heavy sighs from everyone in my row as they put down their baguettes and meringues and shift over to make room for my fat ass.

I felt out of place, and the subject of scorn and contempt.

The other night, though, things were very different.  Starting with me, of course, as I didn’t have to bring an extra 163 pounds along with me.  Our seats the other night were way in the back (I took the first photo above from our seats, so that’s how far we were from the stage), in a section that also had benches, but the other night, the numbers didn’t seem quite so far apart from each other:

I fit comfortably in front of my number, and I didn’t feel like I was encroaching on Jen’s space, which is how I always used to feel in theater-type settings.  As for the other people in the row… well, that was the other big difference – we had the row practically to ourselves.  A few people sat down right as the concert was starting, but it was just us when I snapped this picture of Jen and I a few minutes before the concert started:

I liked that there was no one around us – I got to throw my legs over the back of the bench in front of us – but it sure felt good knowing, with complete certainty, that if I had to squeeze my way into an already-crowded row, it’d be a completely different experience than the Liza concert, and one that definitely wouldn’t end with me feeling shitty about myself.

As for the concert itself, it was wonderful.  Jen bought the tickets weeks ago, and I didn’t pay attention then to what music would be performed, so when I sat down and learned that the LA Phil would be performing Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, I just about crapped my pants.  That’s one of my favorite pieces of music, and one I’ve been dying to hear performed live by a full orchestra!

By the way, you’re totally familiar with Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, even if you think you’re not.  It’s been used in popular culture tons of times, especially in cartoons: There have been Bugs Bunny, Tom & Jerry, and Mickey Mouse shorts that prominently feature it, and it’s the music that Daffy Duck and Donald Duck are playing in the dueling pianos scene of Who Framed Roger Rabbit:

“Scotch on the rocks… and I mean ice!

You can hear the full Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 here.

One more Hollywood Bowl thought.  Going to the Bowl is a workout.  Jen and I took the Subway (which involves climbing down and up about 5-6 flights of stairs at each station, because I try not to take escalators anymore); then about a mile walk from the subway station to the entrance of the Bowl, and then a nice quarter-mile walk up the hill to the Bowl itself, and up tons of steps to our seats in the back.  When I hang out with Jen, she never takes escalators either – I’m rubbing off on her! – but she pointed out how much I enjoy running up stairs when I can, which I hadn’t really thought about before.  I just think, ‘Why not take the stairs two at a time?  I’ll get them over with quicker!’   It sure feels good bounding up 4 flights of stairs in a row, after getting off the subway, without getting out of breath!

Oh, and all those stairs and all that walking the other night came after I had a great workout at the gym: 5 minutes warm-up on a treadmill, 40 minutes of weights, and 25 minutes on a stationary bike.

Keep it up, David!


Haircut and Haul

July 22, 2011

There were a couple things that happened yesterday that really made me feel good about myself – and after this tough week (with my three-pound gain), they couldn’t have come at a better time.

1) Haircut.  I warned you all last week that I was gonna get a haircut, and I got one!  I had Heather, my hair stylist, take before and after pictures, so here’s the before:

And the after:

Lookin’ sharp, right?  I love it.  I’ve trusted Heather at Glendale Salon Spa with my hair for years now, and she’s never let me down.  When I went up to the front desk to pay, Renee (the manager and quite possibly the owner – not sure) looked up from what she was doing and blurted out “Oh my god, you are so hot!”  That was my cue to start blushing.

Every once in a while, I catch an unexpected glimpse of myself – usually, it’s a reflection in a window or mirror, where, for a split second, I don’t realize that it’s ME, and all I see is this thin figure and I wonder who the hell it is, and it catches me off totally off-guard.  Once I saw a shadowy figure in my bedroom and thought someone had broken into my house, and I was ready to bolt for the kitchen to grab a knife before it sunk in that the person that I saw was ME in a mirror.  I suppose, living in this body every single day, that I’ve gotten accustomed to my own point-of-view, and I completely love and appreciate those moments, scary as they might be, when I see myself, and this body that I’ve worked so hard to change, from a different perspective.

When I first looked at the above photos, on the little screen on my camera, I had one of those moments again.  I saw the before picture and thought, ‘Who is that in the background?  I don’t remember anyone else near us…  WHOA! That’s me, in the mirror!”  I zoomed in and looked again… at my long neck… the absence of additional chins… what appears to be pectoral muscles… and it felt really wonderful.

2) Produce Haul.  Nothing quite lifts my spirits like a stroll through a produce department.  And I was due yesterday for a little shopping trip.  After eating breakfast and lunch, I barely had any produce left in my house – just a single lonely tangerine, some alfalfa sprouts (originally bought for my kick-ass sandwich for five – see the recipe here), and a few remaining kumquats that came off my friend Robert’s tree:

Since I wasn’t in the mood to create a kumquat/alfalfa/tangerine recipe (note to the producers of “Chopped” on Food Network – that could be a challenge on your show!), it was time to go to the store.  Lucky for me, there’s a Whole Foods a few blocks away from my salon.  So I zipped over there after getting my hair did and ended up bringing home a nice big produce haul that I can’t wait to dig into:

There’s some glare from my flash – sorry about that!  Starting from the top right and going clockwise, we have:  pre-washed kale/chard salad mix, baby carrots, strawberries, blueberries, a red onion, 2 tomatoes, sliced mushrooms, black grapes, cherries, zucchini, santa rosa plums (they’re small and tasty), 3 peaches, 4 valencia oranges (I plan on juicing them), 3 nectarines, a green pepper, a cucumber, a bag of celery hearts, bananas, and a container of broccoli and cauliflower.

And, I saw another new-to-me stone fruit that I can’t wait to try, since the apriums I wrote about yesterday were so delicious.  Anyone know what these are?

They’re called mango nectarines.  I know nothing about them, except that they’re still pretty firm, so I’ll let them ripen a bit before digging in (and sharing the experience with you).

OH – one more picture to share.  The Glendale Whole Foods is right across the street from the Casual Male Big & Tall store that was one of 3 stores I could shop in when I was at my heaviest (subsequently, they got hundreds, possibly thousands, of my dollars over the years).  Well, the Casual Male used to be across the street.  I must not have been paying attention, because at some point in the recent past, the Casual Male and the gas station next door were demolished, and construction started on this building:

I don’t know what that building is, or will become, but I checked online, and the Casual Male moved about 10 blocks away.  Not seeing the Casual Male there reminded me of one of my all-time favorite blog posts – from last fall, when I said good-bye to shopping at big & tall stores FOREVER.  If you haven’t read my open letter to Casual Male, click here – it’s a good read that I’m quite proud of, and when you get to the picture of the store in my car mirror, know that I spent 10 minutes aligning myself in the parking lot, blocking traffic, to get that shot to line up.  I do it for you, blog readers!  NO.  That’s a lie.  I DO IT FOR ME.  Your enjoyment is an added bonus, and my knowing how much you enjoy it is the best added bonus of all.

Keep it up, David!

COMING UP:  There was another great moment yesterday that I want to share, but since I thought this post was getting a little long, I’m going to save it for next time.  It involves a major Los Angeles landmark (no, not Angel’s Flight)!


Aprium

July 21, 2011

The title of this post is a word I had never seen or heard before, until recently.  If I were to just look at it, I’d think maybe someone misspelled ‘atrium’, or maybe that some clever bazillionaire got a pet ape, and the ape lives in his atrium, making it an aprium.

But because I first saw the word in the produce section of Whole Foods, I knew immediately that it’s a type of produce (yep, I’m a super-genius).  And you know me – I like trying new things from the produce section, so I bought a few.  Ladies and gentlemen, my apriums:

Perhaps some of you have already figured out on your own what I had to look up on the interwebs: that an aprium is a cross between an apricot and a plum.  The name makes sense, huh?  Kinda like when the tabloids smash together the names of two dating celebrities, Bennifer-style (ah, Bennifer seems like so long ago…).

I thought my apriums were a lovely color – 1/2 golden yellow and 1/2 orangey-pink:

But wait… I’m confused.  Aren’t apricot/plum hybrids called plouts?  I bought tons of plouts last summer at the farmers’ market – how are those different from apriums?  And what about plumcots?  What the hell are those?  I remember seeing those at the farmers’ market too (although I don’t remember if I bought them or not).  I needed to get to the bottom of these stone fruit mysteries, and quick!

Turns out, there are differences between pluots, plumcots, and apriums, and it’s all about percentages.  Plumcots are equal parts: 50% plum, and 50% apricot.  Plouts are 70% plum, and 30% apricot.  Apriums, meanwhile, are 70% apricot and 30% plum.   And, of course, because this isn’t confusing enough, there are sub-varieties of each, some of which have pretty fun names, like Dapple Dandy and Flavor Grenade plouts.  There are more than 25 varieties of plouts alone…  so I can keep eating new types of stone fruits all summer!  (And that wouldn’t be a bad thing.)

Back to my apriums…  here’s what they look like inside:

And a slice of one – they’re really juicy:

And the taste?  They’re good.  Oddly enough (or not really at all), the best way to describe them is to compare them to their plum and apricot cousins:  despite being 70% apricot, I thought these apriums tasted more like plums, both in flavor and texture, and they’re delicious, sweet, and refreshing.

I’m off to Whole Foods a little later today…  I wonder what I’ll find there next!

Keep it up, David!


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