Dinner : Merguez Burgers with Greek Salad

For the burgers, combine a pound of ground lamb with about a tablespoon of each of the following : ground fennel, ground cumin, ground coriander.  Add 3 minced garlic cloves, 2 tablespoons of harissa and a tiny pinch of cinnamon.  Form into four patties and grill for about 3 minutes per side for medium rare.  Serve on toasted burger rolls or English muffins.

For the salad, place the following ingredients in a large bowl : peeled and diced cucumber, diced tomato, pitted and minced kalamata olives, diced red onion, a dash of dried oregano, minced fresh parsley and crumbled feta.  Add a few splashes of olive oil and red wine vinegar and a pinch of salt.  Toss to combine, serve on a bed of fresh baby spinach.


Lapsed Athlete

Today was my first workout in almost a week, and I was dreading it.  Last week, in the throes of a mysterious bout of exhaustion, I decided to forgo my Zumba class in favour of getting to bed really early and getting some sleep.  And sleep I did, for almost 24 hours, getting up only to use the bathroom, and eat a couple of bowls of soup.  And after a frantic Friday spent catching up on my backlog at work, I was grateful for the long Columbus Day weekend, most of which I spent in bed, in a near-comatose state.

You would think that I would have leaped from my bed this morning bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to take on the world.  But alas, my tail was not the least bit bushy, in fact, it was dragging.  It dragged all day, impervious to all the caffeine I consumed and all the internal motivational speeches I gave myself.  I forced myself to the gym tonight, and pounded out my hour on the treadmill, fighting all the way.

I'd like to thank my fellow gym-members for not calling the guys with the butterfly nets to come get me, as I cursed, grumbled and begged myself not to quit, while visions of fluffy pillows and plush blankets danced in my head.  Even after I left the gym, I continued to grumble still, as I slogged through the grocery shopping, and shoved some randomly selected food items into the oven (not at all sure how that little experiment is going to turn out).

But hey, if I've got enough energy to do all this complaining, I can't be that tired, right?  I guess I'm making progress..

Today's magic number : 59


Dinner : Ghost Pepper Chili

In a large, heavy pan over medium-high heat, soften a large chopped onion, some minced garlic and a chopped green pepper.  Add 2 pounds of ground meat (I used a mixture of beef and lamb), salt, a tablespoon of ground cumin, a tablespoon of paprika, 3 or 4 tablespoons of chili powder and 1/2 teaspoon of ghost pepper flakes.  Stir, breaking up any lumps with a spoon, until the meat is browned.

Add an 8 oz. can of tomato sauce, and the same amount of water and simmer, covered, until the meat is tender.  Then add 2 cups of butternut squash cut into 1/2 inch cubes, and a 29 oz. can of black beans (drained and rinsed), cover and simmer until the squash is cooked through.  If you find the chili becoming too dry and in danger of scorching during the simmering process, add some water  (or beer if you're feeling wild).  Serve over brown rice and top as desired with sour cream or Greek yogurt, shredded cheddar, sliced scallion, diced fresh tomato, etc.

Ghost pepper is the hottest pepper in the world (as of this writing), and if you're not sure how you will react to it, add just 1/4 teaspoon at first.  If you find that it's not fiery enough for your taste, add some more in very small increments and allow time for the flavours to permeate the chili before tasting again.  The heat can be very mild a few seconds after you add the flakes yet you may find that 10 minutes down the line, you're stuck with an incendiary, inedible mess, so please proceed with caution!


Dinner : Pork Chops with Whole Wheat Pasta and Broccoli

Cook some whole wheat pasta in boiling salted water, remove from heat and drain while still slightly undercooked.  While the pasta is cooking, season some thin-sliced pork chops with Italian seasoning, salt and pepper.  Cook in a bit of olive oil, in a non-stick pan over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes per side.  Remove the pork chops and set aside.  Add fresh broccoli to the same pan and cook for about 5 minutes.  Then add the drained pasta and a 15oz. can of diced tomatoes and cook until the pasta and has reached the desired texture.  Serve the pasta mixture topped with the pork chops.

If you have any leftovers, this is great the next day as a pasta salad (dice the leftover pork chops and mix in with the pasta).  Tastes delicious hot or cold.


Some Like it Hot

It all started out as a rather ordinary Saturday afternoon, as my sweetie and I decided to take advantage of one of the long-standing seasonal events in our area, and made our way to the Chile Pepper Fiesta at the Brookyn Botanic Garden.  Knowing that the fiesta is usually very popular regardless of the weather, we decided to get an early start, in order to avoid the inevitable crowds.  This turned out to be a wise move, as we were greeted not only by an entrance free of lines snaking around the block, but also by the lovely Pepper Sisters (later christened Belle Pepper and Holly Peño by the loopy MC at the main music stage).

As far as sweetie was concerned, our first order of business was to secure some Brooklyn Chili and a good spot on the lawn, both of which were accomplished with minimal fuss, since the gardens were still fairly empty at this point.

We lay around on the lawn enjoying what turned out to be a wonderfully warm day, listening to all the great music and clearing our sinuses with some fiery chili, then after an hour or so we decided to venture into the music tent to get a closer look at the band on stage, the fabulous Red Baraat.  It was at this point that our afternoon took a turn for the bizarre!

One of the MCs was making his way through the crowd and he approached my sweetie with a large plastic bucket, and asked him if he was willing to simply hold on to it for a while until they asked for it during their intermission show.  It seemed like a reasonable request, but of course my curious eye continued to follow the man as he continued through the crowd, handing out buckets.  And even though the spectators were a very mixed bag indeed, he seemed to be selecting a certain 'type' for this bucket-minding duty : young, tall, athletic-looking men.  I began to suspect that he had a bit more in mind than simply collecting the buckets from these men and proceeding with his show, and I anticipated that there was something far more interesting in store for my sweetie than what he had in mind, so I did what any good girlfriend would have done - I kept my mouth shut!

A few minutes later, my silence was rewarded as I witnessed a hilarious demonstration of a 'trust exercise' starring my darling (first man on the left) and three other unsuspecting young men.  Please forgive the shaky video, as it's very difficult to hold a camera steady when you're doubled over with laughter.


Needless to say, being recruited to perform some acrobatic stunts with a group of strangers while a couple of fire-eating clowns perch above you is not what you expect from your ordinary Saturday afternoon.  But lately, Saturday afternoons don't seem to be very ordinary around here, and I'm quite grateful for that!


My New Besties

They say that exercise is often easier when you do it with friends.  Well, since I began this regimen I've had the constant company of two new riding partners: disappointment and pain.

The first one shows up bright and early every morning when I get on the scale.  In spite of my seemingly endless hours on the treadmill over the past three weeks, the numbers are agonizingly slow to change.  And while I am well aware that the daily weighings are only meant as reinforcement of my goal, I can't help but feel a bit downtrodden when I come face to face with the snail's pace of my progress (which, on some days, is measured in negative numbers).

My other new buddy is with me day and night, distracting me from work and tormenting me in my sleep. Every joint in my body feels like it's filled with broken glass.  My muscles throb and spasm.  My body doesn't like exercise, it wants to remain still and sofa-bound, and the ongoing assault is being met with angry and persistent protests.

I'm being told by many of my supporters that this is going to get easier and more fun, at some point.  Let's just hope that happens before I lose my mind and send these two miscreants friend requests on Facebook.

Today's magic number : 59.8


Dinner : Shrimp and Summer Vegetable Stew

In a large non-stick pan over medium heat, sautee some minced garlic in a bit of olive oil, add juice of one lemon and cook for about a minute.  Add a package of frozen corn kernels, a diced red pepper and three small zucchini, diced.  Season with salt and pepper, and stir in a couple handfuls of minced basil.  Cover and cook until vegetables begin to soften.  Mix in about a pound of fresh jumbo shrimp (shelled and cleaned).  Cover and simmer until shrimp is cooked through.

Serve with some crusty bread to soak up the juices.


Dinner : Turkey Scallopini with Caprese Salad

For the salad, combine halved (or quartered, depending on the size) cherry tomatoes, diced fresh mozzarella and minced fresh basil in a large bowl with a dressing of olive oil, salt and pepper.  Allow to sit for 10 or 15 minutes before serving, so that the flavours can combine.

For the scallopini, season thin-sliced turkey cutlets with salt and pepper, dust with flour and cook in a couple of teaspoons of olive oil, in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.  They will take about 2 minutes on each side.  Remove the turkey from the pan and add a small handful of capers, a few tablespoons of red wine vinegar, a handful of chopped fresh parsley and a couple tablespoons of butter.  When the butter is fully melted, pour the sauce over the turkey to serve.

I forgot to add the parsley to the sauce before I took the picture.


After the Storm

I headed to Prospect Park today for the first time since last weekend, partly to break up the gym monotony, and partly to survey the damage wrought by the tornado (yikes!) that touched down in my neighbourhood two days ago.  The cleanup efforts were in full swing, and the roadway was entirely clear, but off the roads,  there was still evidence of heavy damage, jagged tree stumps and torn branches among the grass and shrubbery.

Towards the end of my walk came the most heartbreaking scene of all, this massive tree, torn up at the roots.  I was one of the many who stopped in their tracks at the sight of this fallen giant, in awe of the destruction and havoc that seemingly came out of nowhere.  I've never considered myself to be the tree-hugging type, but I truly felt for this one.  Once the majestic king of the hill, and now a hulking mass of debris.  Talk about a dose of perspective!

and by the way
Today's magic number : 60.6 lbs


Magic Number

So I weighed myself this morning (I've decided I'm going to do it every day, if I can) and I'm not happy.  Mind you, it would be completely irrational of me to expect any weight-loss at all, since I was sidelined for most of last week with a nasty cold. But I was kind of hoping against hope, and feeling that just wanting it bad enough would be enough to make it so.  Okay, that is completely irrational, but I never claimed to be the embodiment of logic.

I was also debating whether or not I should include my weight in my 'shape up' posts. I honestly don't think I can, because the number scares me, shames me, and angers me all at once. Even as I type this, I have to bite my lip to keep from screaming. So instead, I will just state how far I have yet to go. After all, it's more important that I focus on where I want to be, rather than where I am. Because where I am is not a good place at all.

So what's the magic number today? 63.4lbs


Dinner : Chicken and Vegetable Soup

By popular demand (okay so two people asked for the recipe), here's how last night's soup came together.

In a large pot over medium heat, sautee a large onion (chopped) in a tablespoon of oil, add a couple handfuls of chopped carrots and chopped green pepper.  Sprinkle in some chopped fresh thyme.  Add two whole chicken legs - leg and thigh portion with skin removed, salt and pepper. Pour in 4 cups of chicken broth and any additional water needed to cover the chicken. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, until chicken is tender (about 1/2 hour).

Remove the chicken from the pot and shred the meat with a fork. Return the meat to the pot and discard the bones. Add a package of frozen corn kernels, a package of frozen sliced okra, one chopped zucchini and one chopped yellow squash. Simmer until the veggies are tender.


Dinner : Whole Wheat Pasta with White Beans, Zucchini and Yellow Squash

Add whole wheat pasta to boiling salted water and cook according to package instructions.  While pasta is cooking, sautee a few minced cloves of garlic in some olive oil, add a sliced zucchini and a sliced yellow squash and the zest of a lemon.  When the vegetables begin to soften, add 1/2 small can of white beans (rinsed and drained).  Puree the other 1/2 can of rinsed beans with the juice of the lemon, a few leaves of basil, olive oil and water to a creamy consistency.

Add the puree to the vegetables, season with salt and pepper and cook until heated through.

Toss with cooked pasta and top with grated parmesan cheese.


Dinner : Skirt Steak with Chimichurri Sauce, Twice-Cooked Potatoes and Bocconcini


Chimichurri sauce : combine the following in a food processor -
4 large garlic cloves
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 to 3/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
3/4 teaspoon salt

I suggest you play with the proportions until you achieve a taste you like. The mixture should be spicy and salty with a bit of tang.

Marinate flank steak in a few tablespoons of the sauce for about 30 minutes.  While the steak is marinating, halve some small waxy potatoes and place in a pan with cold water to cover.  Add a liberal amount of salt, bring to a boil and simmer until potatoes are just tender.  Remove from water and immediately toss with a tiny bit of olive oil then place in a medium-hot grill pan for about 3 minutes (so that grill marks appear and cut surfaces become slightly crispy).  Keep warm until ready to serve.

Cook flank steaks in a medium hot grill pan for about 3 to 4 minutes on each side, depending on the thickness of the meat and level of doneness required.

Slice steaks across the grain and serve on a bed of salad greens with potatoes and torn or shredded pieces of bocconcini.  Drizzle a bit more chimichurri on top.

Leftover chimichurri will keep for a few days in the fridge, and can be served with fish, chicken, eggs or veggies.


Dinner : Pork Chops and Roasted Peach Salad

Thin-sliced pork chops marinated in a pureed mixture of peach, red onion, garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil for about an hour.  The marinade was then scraped off and discarded, and the pork chops seared over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes on each side.

Sliced peaches and red onion tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper and sauteed over medium-high heat until carmelized to your liking.  While still hot, toss with crumbled blue cheese and place atop a bed of arugula.  Sprinkle with chopped pecans.  I didn't use any additional dressing, but if you choose to, I recommend keeping it as simple as possible, since the dish already has a few strong flavours.

I used a non-stick pan, and no additional oil for cooking.

Cruel and Unusual

I was awash in a sea of sweat, my face was beet-red and swollen, and my breath came in ragged, high pitched, wheezing spurts. My body burned from head to toe and my feet and legs were in spasm with painful cramps. You ask what kind of horrific torture would leave me in such a state - I can answer with a single word:



The Best Laid Plans

Today I decided to get back on the horse. Well, actually I decided a long time ago, but I've only just been able to work up the will-power to get back into an exercise routine.  And being no stranger to falling off said horse (usually very early on in the race) I took the necessary precautions to be sure I would have no excuses: lots of hydration during the day, filling but nutritious meals and snacks, gear all laid out in a neat little pile so that I wouldn't spend a half-hour turning my closet upside down looking for something to wear.

But you know how the saying goes, the best laid plans of mice and men blah, blah, blah.

Halfway through my well-planned day, an annoying stomach bug decided to stop by for a visit.  I didn't have a plan for this, and the lesser me would have abandoned all hope of a workout, in favour of an evening spent on a comfy sofa.  But somewhere along the way, the lesser me had lost her voice, and the me that is fighting for her health, her sanity and her waistline decided to step up.  And step I did.  Slowly and painfully, the blocks went by, and then one mile, and then another.  It wasn't as far as I'd hoped to go, but it was far enough.

What's the plan for tomorrow? I honestly haven't thought that far ahead. I guess I'd better get to it!


The Kiddies Bring the Bling!

Today I dragged my sweetie out of bed at the crack of noon so that we could catch the last few hours of the Brooklyn Children's Carnival.  My struggle was greatly rewarded, since the kids seem to have stepped up their game quite a bit.  We were treated to band after band of wonderfully costumed children, some of them decked out in enough bling and feathers to easily rival their adult counterparts.

Sadly, I neglected to charge my camera battery, so I was only able to get a few shots before the device gave up the ghost. I hope you enjoy them!


The Lurker

I was going to start by announcing that I am back.  But the truth is, I never really went away.  I've been hanging about, haunting my own blog, mulling over posts-in-progress that hang in limbo, waiting to be born, or to be put out of their misery.

I think I'd rather be saddled with a case of writer's block, instead of being in this position of having so much to say that I don't know where to start, and once I get going, not knowing how to finish.

I suppose sharing these thoughts is a first step.  Let's see if other steps will follow.