Category Archives: Food for Thought

Mission Impossible: Tracking down elusive Dutch Crunch bread

I’ve had a bad craving for a sandwich on Dutch Crunch bread ever since I received the Bouchon Bakery book for my birthday. Thomas Keller (not the only chef I read, but seemingly the only chef I talk about) just released the beautiful tome dedicated to all things baking last month and it’s a truly stellar collection with step-by-step photos to guide the baking newbies (myself included).

His recipe for roast beef on Dutch Crunch caught my eye, and I’m not much of a bread baker … YET. But I must have caught the world in a Dutch Crunch deficit, because the bread was super hard for me to find. I looked in OC, and even in NorCal when I was up there last week. Couldn’t find it here, and up there one place was seriously sold out. I found some finally at Zonotto’s in San Jose. I bought a small loaf, brought it in my luggage … and finally, SANDWICH BLISS.

I split the bread with the wife to cut the calories in half and dressed it up as best I could while keeping calories in mind: 3 oz. each of angus roast beef (sliced at the deli counter), 1 slice provolone cheese, 1/3 roma tomato, mixed greens, thin-sliced red onions, a smear of yellow mustard on the top and the bottom and a dash of salt and pepper to finish.

Each half was 370 calories. You can cut another 50 calories per side by using half a slice of cheese instead of a full one. And even if you don’t like red onion, don’t skip it here. The acidic bite it provides works well with the mustard and accentuates the flavor of the lean beef.

Eating healthy and exercising: Tackle one and then the other

I’m starting to feel like I did the first time I lost significant weight and it’s great.

I’m in between my fifth and sixth weeks of regularly going to the gym and I’m at the place where instead of dreading the visit, I dread something happening that would make me miss my workout. It’s been since 2004 that I’ve felt like this and I’m so excited to be here again.

I just wrapped up my first week of strength training, hitting the gym on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday for weights (and 20 minutes of cardio after) and on Saturday for just cardio. I’m also walking 40 minutes on Tuesdays and Thursdays (25 minutes in the morning, then 15 minutes on break at work) and taking 15 minute walks on Monday, Wednesday and Friday as well.

It used to be that bicep curls involved me picking up and putting down the remote and “walking” meant from my recliner to the fridge, but there’s something to this lifting weights thing. It makes me feel like a man. A STRONG MAN. You know, caveman shit.

I’m happy to have finally added exercise to my diet, because it’s so integral to weight loss.

The basic weight loss formula is exercise (cardio and strength training to start) + healthy eating (portion control, elimination/moderation of foods that will kill you). Both in 2004 and now, it seems the easiest way to get through the beginning of a weight loss attempt is to tackle one and then the other.

It took more than a year, but I’ve noticed–especially lately, and especially since adding exercise into the mix and killing my sweet tooth with portion-controlled trail mixes instead of cake and ice cream–that I have the food thing under control now.

While I’m just starting with the exercise, I can already see this being the next step, and exactly what I needed to get me out of the 230s, where I’ve been stuck for about a year.

And since I’m starting to feel like I’ve tackled both healthy eating and working out, I’m going to put it all together this week and get back in the kitchen to make Chef Brian’s delicious dishes. We’ll kick it back off with a trio of vegetarian recipes including enchiladas, paella and stir fry. The menu will go up this week and maybe we’ll get a dish on the blog too. I’m not going to rush, but I will get it done.

Onward and downward!

Cooking ahead frees up time to work out

One of the hardest things about weight loss is making healthy food choices.

For so many people, myself included, the beginning of any diet is full of boring chicken breasts, uninspired salmon filets and flavorless vegetables. That’s why one of the first steps to losing and maintaining weight loss should be to teach yourself how to cook. I’ve learned the hard way what a diet of high-calorie, fat-laden food can do to a person. Looking back, I wish I would have made better decisions about my food choices, because for those with weight to lose, establishing and maintaining proper food habits can be a long, hard road of failure and success, success and failure. It’s one I still struggle with everyday.

Since Nov. 2010, I’ve lost between 20 and 30 lbs. (depending on what kind of shape my diet is in at the time). I did it mostly through altering my food intake. Pulling estimates out of the air, I cut out 95 percent of my soda drinking and 90 percent of my fast food dining. I stopped eating foods with chemicals in them whose names I couldn’t pronounce. And I snuck in some fruits, veggies and nuts along the way.

Sure, I had pizza, burgers, Break of Dawn (a lot) and chocolate galore, but most of the time, I’ve been able to keep the worst offenders out of my body. And cutting things out doesn’t mean giving them up. Make burgers at home and control the portion size. Or use healthy swaps–my latest effort is to replace my chocolate/candy/ice cream/cookie/brownie habit with trail mix. I mix one super healthy trail mix with a not so healthy one (it includes candied pecans and chocolate chips) and I enjoy a reasonable portion each day. Then, once a week, I’ll grab the sweet treat if I need to–which I usually do, lol.

If you want to lose weight, but don’t know where to start, I suggest starting with food. You won’t get the benefit of a great workout if the diet isn’t right.

In starting my workout plan, I’ve decided to change my schedule for blog cooking. I used to cook Fat Dude recipes on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and post them throughout the week. But cooking more than 75 meals of Chef Brian’s menus has made me quite able in the kitchen and has given me the ability to clear the path for the next stage in my weight loss journey.

I make simple meals for the week throughout the weekend so I have minimal work in the kitchen throughout the week. (Just recently I made a Hungarian-inspired chicken stew in the slow cooker, Chef Brian’s kickin’ chickin’, meatloaf with mashed potatoes and whole-wheat pasta with homemade marinara sauce; all pictured at top).

After shoveling down so many double cheeseburgers and Chicken McNuggets, I lost the taste for real food. I now know that spices open doors to new cultures; technique and a willingness to try new things broadens the palate and one’s understanding of food. I’ve said it before, and I’ll admit it again: I used to believe the best qualities in food were their cheesiness, greasiness and large portion size. After discovering what flavors and textures come from simple cooking, the qualities I used to look relish are now at the bottom of my list.

It takes time to get there, but if you put your mind to putting down the Snickers and picking up the dark chocolate–or for a better analogy, putting down the KFC and learning how to spatchcock a chicken at home–you’ve already won half the battle.

On the exercise front, It’s been 16 days since I started walking between 40 and 60 minutes each weekday, and it hasn’t been all that hard to do. I’ve been waking up at 5:30 a.m. for a 25-minute mediation walk (though I find myself getting lost in thought more often than I’m able to focus on not thinking at all) and I take a 15-minute walk on my break at work. That’s 40 minutes, done. If it’s Tuesday or Thursday–days I’ve now set for going to the gym–an extra 20 minutes is tacked on for the trip to the gym.

I’m now used to waking up to walk at 5:30 a.m., and I’m getting better with the gym. Two weekends ago, which was my first weekend after establishing a Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday/Sunday schedule, I only managed to go the Saturday. This past weekend I skipped both days, but learned the lesson that if I just don’t knock it out first thing on the weekends, it’s probably not getting done. Lesson learned.

I made up for the mentality by making it to the gym late-night on Tuesday and I’m definitely going today when I get home from work. Aside from the elliptical machine, I’ve added in some abdominal and back muscle exercises, too. I’m starting to crave trips to the gym, and I get all bummed out if I miss one.

It’s taken some time to fit in fitness, but I think in the grand scale of things, this is the natural next step for the first time in my life. If I continue to build off this momentum, my goals will be within reach.

So, here’s the plan …

Niyaz Pirani (not so) fun fact: I turn 30 this year.

I don’t even like writing it. But it’s going to happen this October no matter how hard I wish it wasn’t so.

So instead of pretending like my 20s aren’t going to end, I’m using the fact to fuel the fire within.

I always imagined my thinner self at several events in the last several years–at various friends’ weddings, my own wedding, on vacations, my birthday parties, etc.–but I never pulled it off this decade. This is my last chance.

I came into this year knowing I wanted to write more blog posts, continue toward the goal of cooking 52 weeks of Fat Dude menus and get in the gym on a regular basis, but I hadn’t solidified a plan or created a goal for myself.

So, here’s the plan.

Last week I started practicing meditative walking (basically walking with a clear mind, only listening to your footsteps as you go–much harder than you think) and also walking on breaks at work and to the gym. I hit the gym on Tuesday and Thursday, doing 20 minutes on the elliptical machine (came out to 2 miles per session).

I’ve thought about it, and I want a workout schedule that allows for both sufficient rest during the work week and a day of rest in between, if possible. With the advice of a friend, I’ve decided on Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday/Sunday with days of rest on Monday/Wednesday/Friday. Sure, Saturday and Sunday workouts are back to back, but once I start working out muscle groups, I’ll use one day for legs and one day for upper body (either back/biceps or chest/shoulders/triceps) and it’ll be all good. I also plan to continue the morning meditation walks on the days I work out. On the days I don’t workout, I’ll continue to wake up at 5:30-5:45 a.m. and use the time to meditate and do stretches to increase my flexibility and improve my back.

I’m also not going to over-do it. If I feel like I need an extra day of rest, I’m going to take it.

I don’t think it’s over-ambitious because it’s a schedule that I can easily keep, and it’s one that addresses both physical and mental well-being. Last week, I walked Tuesday-Friday morning and went to the gym on Tuesday and Thursday. By Friday night, I had the urge to hit the gym again (but instead I did the exact opposite and went to the first-ever dinner service at my favorite restaurant Break of Dawn). On Saturday I went to the gym, too, but skipped on Sunday because the muscles in my legs were hurting.

Once 20 minutes of cardio seems too easy, I’ll up it to 30 minutes per workout. I plan to start weight training in February, but I’m going to go slow with that, too. No need to rush, as long as I get the job done.

I still want this

Seeing everyone’s year-end lists made my fingers itch to hit the keys again. It’s been too long.

If there were ever a time for a year in review, I suppose it’s now. 2011, for me, was a year of learning.

I learned the most about myself–that I can succeed when I put my mind to it, and that I can fail when I don’t give my efforts the full focus they deserve.

As this relates to this blog, I’d say I overachieved in the scope of my efforts. I designed too elaborate a weight-loss scheme, aiming to reverse several years of unhealthy habits with a one year crash course in healthy living. I started strong, but eventually I stopped walking each day. And then I stopped cooking, too.

I failed to meet my self-imposed deadline (Nov. 2011), but upon reflection, I realize that while I never hit the mark, I didn’t miss the target all together. I do cook the majority of my meals at home now. I have for the majority removed processed foods from my diet. So what, I eat too many carbs, and I’m still obsessed with chocolate–life goes on. The diet I had would  have killed me. At least I can’t claim that anymore.

But in pondering my hits and misses, I’ve solidified some major conclusions in my effort to continue on the path of living a healthy lifestyle:

1. Live in the present. I can’t change the past or predict the future. I can only live for the breath in my lungs, because I’m not promised the next. For years I’ve said “when I lose weight” or “when I start going to the gym.” That future never came because I never made it happen. If I’m able now to make something so, why not go for it?

2. Mental health is as important as physical health. As a serial multitasker both in action and thought, I’ve cluttered my mind and body with too many things to process at once. I want to take time with the things I do, and give my relationships, work and leisure the time they all deserve. I often find myself exhausted after coming home from work and then staring at the TV until bedtime. Work isn’t making me tired. I AM. I’ve self-imposed some quiet time and begun reading and practicing meditation and walking meditation. This might sound like some new-age-hippy-resolution bullshit, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while now, and in the spirit of living in the present, I decided to give it a go.

3. Take as much time as you need. Do the job, and do it right. Don’t rush or create too much work for yourself. Simplify. As I said, I plotted this blog to be a one year project that would turn me from fat to fab because I said it could be done. And honestly, had I stuck to my exercise and cooking schedules, maybe I could have done  it. But in coming up with the idea for this thing, I didn’t realize the work that would go into making this possible. I think it’s mostly because I came into this project with the mindset of a reporter who formerly ran a five-days-a-week food blog for a newspaper. But added to a full-time job, I overwhelmed myself thinking I could cook, write and exercise (or make  it to the gym once I hit my first plateau). I made this a job, when it should have been anything  but. If I’m doing this for myself, it shouldn’t matter what schedule I’m on. What should matter is that I get it done.

And I think that’s what I should take away while moving forward. If I didn’t want to lose weight still–if I had given up–I wouldn’t be writing right now.

I still want this. … More to come.

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