Wednesday, December 31, 2014

this little piggy ...

Good thing this little piggy went to market yesterday, before it got clobbered by a chair. Anyway, injuries aside, welcome to my experiment!

I'm thrilled that I have a few happy campers/January austerity enthusiasts. *Claps hands wildly*

As promised, forthwith I give you the master grocery list for week one, which starts TOMORROW! I know you’ll already have many of these items in your refrigerator/pantry, but maybe not. Also, as far as exact amounts, I’ll leave that up to you. Maybe you’re cooking for one. Maybe five. So.

Enough greens for ten salads/sandwich stuffings, etc. I like to mix it up. Mache, bibb, red leaf, romaine, etc.
A bag of cuties or another sort of orange/tangerine – type citrus fruit
Three white or yellow onions
Two bulbs garlic
Bunch of baby asparagus
A couple green apples
Fruit for smoothies. Berries/bananas, that sort of thing
At least four lemons
Head of cauliflower of some florets 
Two limes
Enough sweet potatoes for three meals
Kale (you knew that would be on the list, right?)
Chard (colorful!)
A couple carrots
Green onions
A couple tomatoes (big)
Grape tomatoes or small tomatoes (8 - 10)
Some red potatoes
An array of colorful peppers: one of each, perhaps

Pearl mozzarella
Feta cheese
Plain Greek yogurt

One box of pasta (whole grain or made from quinoa preferred)
Sprouted wheat English muffins (I like the Ezekiel muffins, cinnamon raisin is my fave)
Rice cakes!
Rice (you can get brown rice but it doesn’t agree with me, so I bought Lundberg Basmati/Wild rice)
One loaf Killer Dave’s multi-seed bread or an equivalent hi-pro, low-carb bread
Corn tortillas or wraps

Carton of eggs
Two meals worth of fresh fish (cod, halibut, salmon, tilapia… whatever’s fresh)
Two cans of water-packed tuna
One jar crunchy almond butter
Tofu – two packages
Sliced turkey from the deli
Two different types of ground meat (I chose wild boar for one of mine!)
Beans. Canned or dried or ready made. Your favorite types enough for three meals
A bag of raw cashews (bulk section)
A bag of raw almonds (bulk section)

A couple of Amy’s single serving burrito type thingies
Applegate, gluten-free chicken breast tenders – one or two boxes

Buying jam? Make sure the fruit is listed first
Olive oil
Vinegars (I’m keen on coconut vinegar – it’s like apple cider vinegar. Also, balsamic – but check out the calories/sugars and use sparingly)
Mayo (sparingly, of course)
Butter (again, sparingly)
A variety of herbs and spices, particularly curry/turmeric/cinnamon/ginger/basil/tarragon/oregano
Hot sauce
Golden raisins
Rolled Oats (for making granola!)
Jar of spaghetti sauce
Fruit-first jam (see picture)
Almond milk (a couple of cartons)
Chicken (or veggie) broth – one or two cartons
Quercetin (more on this later in the week, but it’s the one supplement that I think is worth the $)

So, I’ve built in three one-serving treats a week. Your choice. Maybe you’re an ice cream fan? Maybe you love chocolate? Maybe just a handful of ginger snaps will do? Whatever your poison, it’s all about portion control, right? Here’s the caveat though. Week one, if you really want to “jump start” your movement away from excess, do without the treats and add them in on week two. Okay?

300 calorie breakfast
THE DIET. DAY ONE. (Jan 1st)
Okay, ladies we’re aiming for this 3/4/5 calorie breakdown (gents, you get to add 100 calories to each meal. Another way in which life isn’t fair). I stole the idea from the 7 Years Younger book.
Breakfast: 300
Lunch: 400
Dinner: 500
(add 200 – 300 calories of snacks in after week one)
Oh yeah, and drink your water! Seriously. Water!

1 Ezekiel muffin, toasted
1 tbsp almond butter; 
1 tbsp fruit-first jam
1 tangerine

Garden Turkey Sandwich w/ Lemon Mayo (2 ounces turkey/1 slice bread/1/2 tsp mayo mixed with squirt of lemon/1 tsp dried cranberries/couple of chopped cashews/celery/lettuce)
1 Apple

Poached fish (bake your 4 ounce filet in parchment paper with drizzled olive oil/tarragon/garlic/lemon)
Roasted sweet potatoes/red potatoes mixture (3/4 cup)
1 rice cake (you can spread up to 1 tsp almond butter on it, or hummus)
Large salad (greens/red peppers/almonds) with homemade oil/vinegar dressing (below)

Suzy’s Salad Dressing
I’ve made this for years. 85 calories a serving, I usually make 3 servings at a time:
6 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Tbsp Honey
1 tsp lemon juice
1 clove chopped garlic
1 tsp mustard
(I heat the honey/garlic/mustard in the microwave for 15 seconds, then add the rest of the ingredients)

Happy New Year! Clink your last glass of champagne with me tonight. Comments/hints/other ideas/links are welcome!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

climbing on the wagon

snap of the ghost of Christmas Present from the Goodman Theatre's production of A Christmas Carol
It's that time of year again. Where "Let's Talk About Writing" becomes "Let's Talk About Eating."

I outdid myself this holiday season, in terms of cookie, chocolate and alcohol consumption. In my mind, I resemble the Ghost of Christmas Present in "A Christmas Carol." Everything inflamed and larger than it should be. My stomach gurgling and hurting. My skin blotchy. I picture my liver being blown up by a ball pump. And the vessels in my heart choked and lined with fat. The bad fat. You know, LDL and whatnot.

I know what to do. Of course I do. I have a 80thousand dollar education from Syracuse University to prove it. A diploma somewhere in storage claiming I have a BS in dietetics. I know that fad diets are lame and losing weight fast is stupid and unsustainable, and that there is no fountain of youth. I also know better than to cram my face with peppermint patties, almond roca and figgy pudding. And yet, each year, I eat like a pig for a month, washing it all down with gin and red wine - sometimes both in one sitting. Fa la la la burp la.

It's no secret that we tend to eat three times the calories we normally do in the five weeks or so between Thanksgiving and New Year's. Booze, bon-bons, crème brûlée. Champagne, cheese, chocolate. In that cold, dark month, we Americans pile on as many calories as we do from June to October. And we exercise half as much. Wonder why we tend to feel like shit on December 30th? And guess what? We still have a week's worth of parties to attend! I'm all about The Royal We here, because, obvi - 'tis the season of the diet book. A whole shitload of them pubbed today as a matter of fact. Here are a few:

The Zero Belly Diet
The Burn: Why Your Scale is Stuck and What to Do About It
Supermarket Healthy
The DASH Diet Younger You

Of the above books, I recommend the DASH one. And it's probably my frame of reference, coming from a clinical dietetics background, but this book includes some of the latest academic information backed by actual scientific research. I'm a snob about that stuff. So shoot me. There's another book I like too - and it has a similarly unfortunate "snake oily" title: 7 Years Younger: The Anti-Aging Breakthrough Diet. I am gleaning stuff from both those books, and making my lists, checking them twice.

With a caveat.

The thing about any prescriptive book for creative types? We have a hard time following directions. Guilty as charged. For instance, I'm not going to eat oatmeal. My loving husband does. Every single morning. I hate oatmeal. Unless you put lots and lots of butter and brown sugar in it. Period. Also, low fat cheese. What's the fucking point of low fat cheese? I say, eat half the amount of regular cheese. Plus, no way am I giving up coffee. I am giving up booze though. For a month - then adding it back in judiciously. Also, limiting sugar with a goal to wean myself off of it 90% of the time.

So, upstart that I am, I've developed my own version of a diet, stealing a lot from the aforementioned books. It's anti-inflamatoryish, balanced as far as the carb/protein/fat thing goes and it's between 1400 and 1500 calories, so it's reasonable. As far as writing things down? I have the apps. A really good one is My Fitness Pal, and an even better one is Fooducate. MFP is free, and the bells and whistles Fooducate one costs a few bucks a month. They're helpful to track the calories in/calories out thing, but the best way to get on the healthy eating wagon after a period of over-indulgence is to plan ahead. Buy the groceries, plan out the menus, know what you're going to eat at the start of the day.

So, guys, here's how I'm going to do it. I'm going to post my "menus" every day and my "shopping lists" once a week. Here on the blog. Staring tomorrow, New Year's Eve, until January 30th (at which point I'm off on a week long holiday with some fabulous gal pals, and yes, I will eat, drink and be merry - but hopefully, somewhat healthily, too).

Wanna join me? No pressure. Only that tight waistband.

Friday, December 19, 2014

my neighbor, ned

In the many, many years before this one - when I would sneak into bookstores and libraries stealthily with the sole purpose of spying the exact spot on the shelf my books would live if any of them ever got published - I often lamented my near-the-end-of-the-alphabet name. Vitello. Fat chance of an impulse buy, there, right? Was it too late to rename myself Suzy Aaron?

Back when I thought my eventual books would be housed in the literature section (hoity-toity, I know) I imagined myself wedged between Jules Verne and Kurt Vonnegut. That's right, my dark prose would rub elbows with Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea on one side, Cat's Cradle on the other.

But when I started writing YA, I shifted my surveillance, and began nosing around the end of the alphabet in kid lit. And that's when I discovered Ned Vizzini. Vizzini! A YA paisan, I thought. The Italian last name. The teen angst themes. I brought It's Kind of a Funny Story home for Carson. And the Teen Angst book, too. He particularly took to Teen Angst, because he was doing an autobiography unit at school. Turned out, though, I had to go to bat in my son's behalf when his 7th grade language arts teacher declared he couldn't read it for credit.

I had to tamper down my Bea Arthuresque indignation, whipping into the school in my cape and  wine-color lip liner. "This is exactly what middle school boys should be reading," I argued.

"It looks like a cartoon book," she said. "It's not serious autobiography."

Oh, but I was prepared. I had the list of accolades from esteemed sources claiming the book's merit. In the end, she reluctantly agreed to let him read it, but she wasn't happy about it.

Carson was devastated by my pushiness. And embarrassed. But he loved the book, and read, rather than skimmed it - which was a supreme accomplishment.

So when I got my book deals, I began thinking of Ned Vizzini as my soon-to-be neighbor.This guy who shared my sense of snark and disdain for asshole teachers. Who wrote his truth directly to his audience - and was known as a sensitive, kind soul who spent hours chatting with his fans in bookstore lines. A neighbor anyone would be thrilled to have.

In various bookstores, I stalked the  P - Z young adult shelves, my eyes grazing along until they landed on the (always face out) white and black map head cover of Funny Story. There, I thought. That's where my books will live next year. Next to Ned. My little ramble-shack cottages next to this architectural masterpiece!

And you probably know this, but a month before I officially moved in next door to Ned, one year ago today, in fact, he committed suicide. He jumped off a roof within view of the Brooklyn Public Library - a place he publicly supported and revered. I saw the tweets, one after another and I was bowled over in disbelief. This guy who had saved teenagers' lives - an outspoken advocate for mental health intervention - had been suffering more than anyone guessed. Somehow I felt that since he wrote about his darkest fears - offered up his journey through depression and pointed toward hope and salvation - that he was immune from a devastating outcome.

Today I ran across this lovely tribute by an author-friend of his, and it gave me further insight into my bookstore neighbor, Edison "Ned" Vizzini, and all day I've been thinking more about the separate lives of books - and how they're lived apart from their creators. The life inside of a book is often a hopeful construct. An imagining that ends in triumph. I think of Ned and me. Our side-by-side stories on the pine shelf - our characters' heartbreaks and salvations - I like to think that the worlds we built, Ned and me, and all those lucky authors with first-half-of-the-alphabet names, are transcendent of our failures. That they connect readers with their humanity regardless of the fragile nature of the artist.

And that's why I'm hoisting a glass to Ned tonight instead of feeling sad. Ned Vizzini left us at the young age of 32, but he left us rich and fat as fuck. I love that his books are squeezed up against my books. That the heartbeat of story continues, no matter what. Thank God, Ned. Thank God people still write.