Thursday, February 28, 2008

The oddest thing

The oddest thing happened this morning.

I was on my lounge chair outside on the upstairs deck, where I like to start my day by listening to the birds chirp and twitter as I sip my morning coffee and wait for the caffeine to kick in. I unwrapped a Dove dark chocolate egg to go with my coffee and ... it tasted a little cloying, a little too sweet, perhaps a little greasy even, a little almost-not-right. I think I came close to maybe considering that I might possibly not really want it. I'm quite sure I felt the earth shudder on its axis just a bit.

I resisted panic, though, and was reassured when chocolate egg number two tasted just fine. Delicious even. So, crisis averted; all is still well in my world.

I only had the two chocolate eggs, by the way. Well within the "serving" size of dark chocolate now recommended by Prevention magazine.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Cornbread for Breakfast

Here's the cornbread recipe I promised you yesterday. I've got a photo of the finished product, but it's still in the digital camera, to which I have lost the cable (again!). I think we've had to get a new camera cable more often than a new battery. Surely it's around here somewhere... if you see a picture with this post, you'll know I found it.

This recipe is based on the almost-excellent Maple Cornbread recipe at Which is good, but a little too eggy and rich for my taste (and makes way too much for the 9" baking pan they say to use; if you do try their version, I suggest using a 9x13 pan.) I've made some changes to the ingredients (whole wheat flour, oat bran, yogurt), and cut back the overall quantity by about a third while reducing eggs and butter by half. I love two things about this recipe:

1) It's the best cornbread I've ever had (sorry, Epicurious/BonAppetit, but I like my version better than yours)

2) It's INCREDIBLY quick and easy! Incorporating cold butter into the dry ingredients in the food processor is a breeze compared to melting the butter separately! And you can do the wet stuff in the food processor, too.

Be advised that this is traditional NEW ENGLAND STYLE cornbread: dense, moist, and rich. If you're used to pale, wimpy, fluffy crap pretending to be cornbread, this might be a shock to your system.

If you want to cheat on the ingredients and use nasty imitation maple-flavored high fructose corn syrup crap instead of the real thing, or some sort of "I can't believe it's pretending to be butter" stuff, or fat-free milk and yogurt, I can't stop you... but I won't be held responsible for the quality of the finished product.


Preheat oven to 375° with rack in center of oven. Butter a non-stick 9" square baking pan. I use a Calphalon baking pan -- nice and heavy, produces a beautiful brown crust without overcooking the outside -- and all organic ingredients (with one exception, confessed below).

The Dry Stuff
1-1/2 C stoneground yellow cornmeal (Arrowhead Mills is a good brand)
2/3 C whole wheat pastry flour* (or 1/3 C each whole wheat and unbleached all-purpose flour)
2-3 T oat bran (optional)
2-1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt

*TIP: Sift your flour before measuring it, or do as I do and just fluff the flour in the container with a fork. Scoop up a heaping measuring cup without compacting the flour at all, then use the flat edge of a knife to scrape excess from top.

Place all dry ingredients in the bowl of your food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Add:

4 T (1/2 stick) COLD unsalted butter, cut into small (1/4"-1/2") pieces

Pulse a few times until the butter is incorporated. Dump the cornmeal mixture into a medium mixing bowl.

Don’t bother washing food processor bowl, just it place back on the base. Add:

The Wet Stuff:
2 large eggs
1/2 C REAL maple syrup (not "maple-flavored pancake syrup"!)
1/2 C milk (whole or 2%)
1/2 C yogurt (whole or lowfat)
1 tsp vanilla or orange extract

Dump the wet stuff into the bowl over the dry ingredients and quickly mix it all together with a fork. It's okay if the batter is a little lumpy, but make sure there's no clump of dry stuff hiding at the bottom of the bowl. Don’t overmix: your goal is to be quick and get it into the pan (and oven) as soon as the batter comes together.

TIP: If your oven is slow to heat, check to make sure it's up to temperature before mixing the wet and dry together. Once the batter is combined it should go in the oven right away.

Bake until browned and cracked on top, and top springs back when gently pressed with finger. Approx. 35-40 min., but time may vary quite a bit, depending on your oven and baking pan. Cool in pan on rack.

I make this cornbread a lot, because I eat it for breakfast almost every morning. It keeps very well (wrapped in plastic) in the fridge for as long as it takes me to work my way through a pan, which is most of a week. Do be sure to let it cool COMPLETELY before refrigerating. If I've baked this in the evening I let it sit out on the counter overnight uncovered and refrigerate it the next day.

Some big-name foodies have gone on record as saying that cornbread is ONLY good hot straight out of the oven, and is useless once it achieves "left-over" status.

What is wrong with these people? Don't they own toasters?

Here's what I do: cut a nice piece (about 1/8 of the 9" pan), turn it on its side, and slice into two thinner slabs. Run it through your "normal-bread" toaster setting TWICE. A little unsalted butter and organic raspberry jam is my favorite topping, but honey is good, too.

Minor confession: I don't use organic maple syrup. I get my maple syrup at Costco, where I can afford to buy the kind of quantity involved in making this recipe on a weekly basis.


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A good reason to take it easy

Vog made the front page of the Hawaii Tribune-Herald this morning, after triggering
a health alert from Hawaii Civil Defense yesterday. Residents are advised to avoid
outdoor activities, even just going for a walk. Good excuse for taking it easy!

Enough breeze yesterday to clear the air a little in the afternoon, so I did an easy recumbant bike pedal. So far today it's not bad in our neighborhood, according to my unoffical sensors: eyes are only sligthly itchy, I can walk up the stairs without feeling out of breath, and the headache I had all day yesterday is gone. (I attribute the headache to vog, but it might have been a de-tox effect from all the Uncle Kimo's Vog Tea I was drinking.)

I don't think I'll plan to go for a jog today, though I'm hoping for a Bowflex workout later. Wanna squeeze in some strength training before period arrives and derails workouts for a couple of days. I know P's on its way when I ponder what to have for breakfast and a bowl of ice cream or a grilled cheese sandwich both seem like perfectly reasonable options. I was good, though, and had toasted cornbread with organic raspberry jam. Perhaps not the healthiest b'fast in the world, but better than ice cream or grilled cheese. And delicious! I'd post the recipe, but it's downstairs on the notebook computer, so I gotta copy it over up here first.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Guava cake disappointment

Where are the trade winds when you need them? It was so voggy in the Hilo area yesterday that we decided not to go to the Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden, which is one of my favorite Sunday-afternoon get-out-of-the-house destinations. (Nice thing about living here is we can always go next weekend.)

Looks like we're gonna be in a thick vog haze again today. Just after 9AM here this morning and my eyes are a little itchy. On a clear day there are lovely views of Mauna Kea from this area, but it's vanished behind a thick gray haze this morning.

I made the mistake, not long after we moved here from Maui a year ago, of thinking a voggy day was just a hazy afternoon and I ought to get a run in before it started to rain (which looked imminent, the day was so gloomy). That was a mistake, followed by three days of cold symptoms asmy body tried to clear inhaled crap out of my lungs and sinuses. Ever since then when it's voggy -- which fortunatley is not very often -- I feel it in my lungs, and even get a little short of breath just walking up the stairs that I normally run up and down dozens of times a day. >

These days, when it's voggy, I play it safe and avoid unnecessary exertion. Which means if we don't get a NE breeze by this afternoon I'll have to just do some gentle yoga/pilates instead of cardio or Bowflex. Which is fine -- I like yoga and pilates and usually feel I should be doing more of it -- but I can feel my period's on the way, and would like to get some effective workouts in before then... we'll see.

Sunday is "cake day" in this house, so last night hubbie and I finished up the last of the Guava Cake after dinner. (I'd made it for his b'day back in January -- T loves guavas -- and stuck leftovers in the freezer.) It was good, but not good enough to share the (experimental) recipe or ever make again. For one thing, the flavor was pleasant but just mildly and generically fruity. It didn't taste specifically like guavas. And it was a bit of a pain to make, since I'd started with the ripe fruit, which had to be peeled and pureed and strained to get the seeds out. Then made into a cake, with guava filling and a guava/cream cheese frosting. For that much work I want to go, "ummm, guava!" when I eat it, not just, "this is good; it's got a nice, sort of fruity, flavor." >

Final verdict: pleasant eating, but not a "keeper" recipe. I'll try again some day (not likely to be soon) when I'm inspired to make a major kitchen effort and we've got ripe guavas in the house.

So, the idea of this blog is that it will inspire me to get serious about fine-tuning the intake/exertion equation so I slim down a little. Seems to me that ought to start with some kind of "before" benchmark, with weekly weigh-ins and eventual reports of shrinkage.

Monday morning seems as good a time to weigh in as any, and I'm happy to report that I'm at 157.0. That'll be the starting point. Of course, half a pound is well within normal up-and-down fluctuation, so it will take more than that to feel like real progress, but down is down. Until it goes up again. Will try to avoid that. I guess I'll do the measurements thing today, too, at some point when I step away from the computer and locate a measuring tape.

Today's blog sucess: figured out how to include a photo and hyperlink.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Smallest Loser

I love cake. It's just so yummy!

Cake is particularly yummy for breakfast, with a nice big cup of coffee (my other addiction). Sugar and caffeine and butterfat... a match dreamed up in Heaven, for sure. And mid-afternoon, with a cup of tea, you just can't beat a little sliver of cake for a pick-me-up.

It's pretty good for dessert, too, but if there's cake in the house I will -- by that time of day -- have already indulged in a "little sliver" several times, so after-dinner is the one time of day I can (sometimes) shrug it off.

If I ate all the cake I wanted, I'd have to audition for Biggest Loser. As it is, I am often astonished that I'm still well under 200 pounds. Not that I'm as slim as I'd like to be. Over the past 9 years, since turning 40, I've watched my mid-section slowly and steadily lose the battle with middle-aged spread as the numbers on the scale have crept up, a pound here, two there.

I figure I'm doing pretty well to confine my cake indulgences (most of the time) to once weekly, and my excess poundage to around 20. I'd rather the excess were zero, but the bottom line is I'm not willing to give up cake completely to get there.

Last year my sister and I decided we would be email diet buddies. We'd support and encourage and motivate and check in with each other and lose weight together. As of Jan. 1, 2008, my total weight loss for the ENTIRE previous YEAR was a whopping... 1 pound. One. That's pathetic!

I've been pretending, since Jan. 1, that I'm going to get more serious about eating less and exercising more. But mostly it's been pretense. However, as of this morning I'm down another pound and a half, to 157.5 (not too bad for 5'8" and almost-50, but a tad on the pudgy side). Better than nothing, but still in Smallest Loser territory.

So, I've decided to go public. Maybe if I blog about it I'll actually get my butt in gear. Whether or not anyone but me (and probably my husband and sister) will ever read this doesn't matter. I'll pretend there's someone out there who's keeping an eye on this blog and expects to read reports of successful shrinkage.

If I hadn't spent so much time getting my banner image sized to fit just right (I'm new at this), I'd ramble on a little longer, but it's way too nice a day to spend the entire afternoon inside at the computer... I'm gonna go put on my sneakers and go for a walk.