over and over again

Perhaps this is the post you expected all along.

In the past, oh, four years or so, I’ve developed a pattern of suddenly discovering I’ve outgrown my entire wardrobe, then spending a month or two losing enough weight to get down to a healthier weight, and then spending the next 10-11 months stuffing my face until I can no longer fit in my pants again. The first time this happened was fairly extreme. I had managed to reach a weight and pant size that it took 2 months to lose about 30 pounds and 3 inches off my waist.  Subsequent years have not been so extreme, but are usually around 10-15 pounds in about a month. So, here I am in the middle of the cycle, trying to drop a few just so I don’t have to break out the fat pants.

I wouldn’t say I’m an expert on losing weight —  otherwise, I probably wouldn’t be stuck in this never-ending cycle, and I would just remain at my ideal weight — but I have developed a decent program that works for me. I’m not going to say it’ll work for you, but it should. The basic idea isn’t a new one, really. Eat less. Seriously, this is one of those tried and true methods that just works. Ok, I’ll add a little nuance to this.

You should eat less or fewer of the following:
  • calories
  • refined carbohydrates (i.e. flours and sugars and beer)
  • fat
  • meat and cheese (because they can be both high in calories and fat)

Also, not quite so obvious is that you should actually eat more often. When I was younger, I was a skinny little kid with the appetite of a prospective sumo wrestler. And yet, I continued to weigh the same throughout high school and most of college. The big difference between then and now (besides the long bike rides) is my metabolism. This is a key component to losing weight. If you’ve got a speedy metabolism, your body can whip through those calories in no time. One way to get your metabolism back up is to never be hungry. Your metabolism will eventually realize that it constantly needs to work to process all of that intake. If, on the other hand, you endure long periods of hunger, your metabolism becomes dormant, since there’s nothing for it to do. Important note though. Don’t just stuff yourself at every possibility. Rather, ration out your caloric allotment across several meals and snacks. Portion size is important here. Two other little tricks that have helped are that cayenne pepper and green tea can also help to increase your metabolism. Not sure of the science behind this, but that doesn’t keep me from putting cayenne pepper or hot sauce on just about everything.  Soups are also another great way to fill you up without a lot of calories.

So, to summarize, you should eat or drink more of the following:
  • often
  • fruits and vegetables
  • beans
  • nuts
  • soup
  • water (sometimes your hunger is really thirst)
  • cayenne pepper
  • green tea

One thing I’ve found really helpful is actually keeping a log of what you eat during the day. It really keeps you conscious of the effect that any given food can have on your weight loss goals. I use an app called Lose It which also has a web interface. They’ve got a huge and growing database of everything you could possibly imagine and allows you to enter in your own, as well as recipes that you can then portion out throughout the week without having to enter in each ingredient every single day. It also helps you determine the right number of calories you should consume to achieve your goals.

Lastly, it should go without saying that exercise is key, but since this is a food blog, and I’m no exercise guru, I’ll leave that to others.

Over the years, I’ve developed some decent recipes that abide by the above rules that I go to all of the time whether I’m trying to lose weight or not. And, actually, before I mention any of those, I’ll reveal a dirty little secret about what I have for breakfast when I’m trying to lose weight. About 10 baby carrots and 2 tablespoons of peanut butter. It ain’t pretty, but damn effective, and honestly, the carrots are merely a necessary delivery mechanism for the peanut butter. I wouldn’t expect anyone else to ever start their day off this way. But it honestly satisfies me, and is often the meal I look forward to the most, since it’s just short of just using a spoon. Now, some worthwhile recipes to help you achieve those New Year’s resolutions that are bound to appear come January the first.

chickpea or White Bean salad

makes 2 servings, about 300 calories each

  • 1 15 oz. can of chick peas or white beans
  • 1/4 c. onion, diced
  • 10 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 c. radishes or bell pepper, diced
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • chopped herbs
  • salt to taste
  1. Put everything in a bowl.

pea soup

makes 4 servings, about 100 calories each

  • 1/2 c. onion, diced
  • 1 16 oz. bag of frozen peas, thawed
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • chopped mint
  • 3 c. water
  • salt to taste
  1. Put the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Put in the onions and let them soften. Takes about 5-8 minutes.
  3. Pour in the water,  add the peas, and turn the heat to high.
  4. Simmer away for about 5 minutes.
  5. Add the mint. Then blend with an immersion or regular blender.

Pretty Spicy chili

makes 6 servings, about 500 calories each

  • 1 lb. ground pork, beef, chicken, or turkey (or just omit)
  • 2 15 oz. cans of kidney, pinto, or black beans (in any combination)
  • 1 c. onion, diced
  • 1 jalapeno, diced
  • 1  sweet bell pepper, diced
  • 1-2 poblano peppers
  • 1-2 chipotle peppers, diced (optional)
  • 3 15oz. cans of diced tomatoes (Muir Glen has a lot of interesting varieties, some with green chiles, for instance)
  • 1/4 t. cinnamon
  • 1/2 t. cayenne (to taste)
  • salt to taste
  1. Roast the poblano peppers either over gas burners or under the broiler. Once completely charred, put in a covered bowl and set aside to cool. Once cooled, peel away the charred skin and dice, discarding the seeds.
  2. In a large pot or dutch oven, brown the meat if you’re using it over medium high heat. Once browned, set the meat aside and discard most or all of the grease.
  3. Turn the heat to medium and add the onions, bell pepper, chipotles, and jalapeno to soften. After a few minutes add the spices.
  4. Add the remaining ingedients, as well as the meat and poblanos, and simmer away for 20 minutes until the mixture is fairly thick.

huevos rancheros with “Refried” Beans

“refried” beans

makes 3 servings, about 150 calories each

  • 1/4 c. onion, diced
  • 1 tsp. oil
  • 1/2 jalapeno (optional)
  • 1 15 oz. can pinto or black beans
  • 1/4 t. cayenne, pimenton (smoked paprika), or any other spicy spices (optional)
  • water
  • salt to taste
  1. In a small saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat and add the diced onion and jalapeno. Cook for about 5 minutes. Add the spices.
  2. Drain the can of beans and add to the pan.
  3. Add water to cover the beans, and turn heat to high. Boil vigourously until the beans soften, about 5 minutes.
  4. With a potato masher or the back of a spoon, mash the beans until you get something that looks, well, like refried beans. They should have some chunks, but also be fairly smooth.
Huevos Rancheros

makes 3 servings, about 300 calories each

  • 1/2 c. onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp. oil
  • 1 jalapeno (optional)
  • 1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 t. cayenne, pimenton (smoked paprika), or any other spicy spices (optional)
  • 6 eggs
  1. In a saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat and add the sliced onion and jalapeno. Cook for about 5 minutes. Add the spices.
  2. Add the can of tomatoes and simmer for 10-15 minutes until a lot of the liquid is evaporated.
  3. Transfer the sauce to a large saute pan with a cover over medium heat.
  4. Crack the eggs and add them one-by-one into the sauce. You’ll be poaching the eggs in the sauce, so just crack them onto the surface. Don’t stir them in.
  5. Cover the pan and cook for about 7 minutes or until your eggs are cooked to your liking. Serve with the refried beans.

… with pickled peppers

Brightly colored cherry bomb peppers

Brightly colored cherry bomb peppers

OK, I like pickles, you get it. I like just about anything pickled (though a pickled egg makes me a little nervous, admittedly.) Along with a traditional dill pickle and spicy romano beans (a recipe I promise to cover next time these big fat romano beans come around,) pickled peppers are near the top of my list. I have early memories of eating pickled hot cherry and pepperoncini peppers straight from the jar as a kid. Still today, I’m a sucker for those ubiquitous jarred bright green pepperoncinis.

A couple of years ago I grew habaneros and jalapenos on my back patio and pickled a small jar of them in vinegar and salt. After months, I was afraid to open the jar in fear of dripping any of the lethal, nuclear-hot liquid and burning a hole in whatever it touched. Nonetheless, I always had a great addition to salsas and chilis hiding out in the back corner of my refrigerator (so as not to accidentally brush up against any of the other fridge inhabitants.)

Brightly colored cherry bomb peppers

Brightly colored cherry bomb peppers

The other day, Michael Ruhlman tweeted a link to an old blog post he wrote about using Michael Symon’s recipe for pickled chilis. When I came upon a generous pint of brightly colored cherry bombs at the Crystal City farmer’s market, I already knew exactly what I was going to do with these.

In our backyard patio garden, among the tomatoes and copious herbs, we’ve got two little pots that have been producing pepperoncini and jalapenos at a modest rate. There is one major issue with these peppers, however; they are not hot at all. Would make for a great parlor trick — bite into a bright red jalapeno and eat it whole, amaze your friends with your tolerance for the blazing heat, knowing all along it’s as mild as a bell pepper. With a handful of these still on the branches, I figured I’d throw these into the batch and hope the cherry bombs bring enough heat to spread around. While I was at it, I threw in some backyard thyme, too.

Handful of homegrown jalapenos and pepperoncini

Handful of homegrown jalapenos and pepperoncini

The recipe is real simple and took about 10-15 minutes from beginning to end. Put your peppers in a jar. Heat your brine. Pour brine over peppers. Michael Symon’s recipe called for specific herbs and spices, but I just used what I had on hand. I’d recommend the same. I’ve provided what I used, but feel free to improvise and vary the flavors. Try a different vinegar or herbs.

Jarred pickled peppers

Jarred pickled peppers

Pickled peppers

  • 32 oz. canning jar
  • generous pint of hot peppers
  • 1 1/2 c. water
  • 1 1/2 c. white vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. salt
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • a few sprigs of thyme
  • 3-4 garlic cloves
  • 10 black peppercorns
  1. Clean and place your peppers in a clean jar. (I cut little holes in the peppers so the brine could permeate and the peppers wouldn’t just float to the top.)
  2. Mix the water, vinegar, salt, sugar, herbs, garlic, and peppercorns in a small saucepan and simmer until sugar and salt are dissolved.
  3. Let the brine cool, then pour over the peppers in the jar, making sure to cover the peppers entirely and refrigerate.

Eat these right out of the jar and slice and use for garnish or anywhere you’d use a hot pepper.

Since I just put these up, it’ll be a few weeks until they hit their full potential, so I’m holding on trying them for at least a couple of weeks.