Saturday, January 31, 2009

It’s Working

I Have Returned to Eating Consciously

I am painstakingly recording everything; my food intake, exercise, and weekly weigh in on a site called: Calorie Count. Now I can not fool myself in thinking that I ate less than I did or ate all the rights things.

I even ate out at Empire Café on Wednesday night with friends. I ordered a small Nutty Chicken Pizza with grilled chicken, cashews, spinach, mushrooms, marinara sauce, and mozzarella cheese on a whole wheat crust. Which incidentally was delicious, even with all the toppings, the flavors nicely married together, the crust was still crisp and the cashews gave it a nice crunch.

Instead of eating the whole or even a half of the pizza, I ate a third. This was plenty of food for me. We were celebrating a friend’s birthday that night and I took a small bite out of each of the three cakes slices we were sharing. Restraint works.

Exercise – Must be part of my daily practice

I am recording my daily exercise as well. The recording is happening, the practice is not. This is a work in progress; I am a work in progress.

I do well with exercising on the weekend but during the week, meh? I am now trying to incorporate some exercise into my classroom teaching. After all it benefits the children and keeps my stress level down as well.

In the mornings, I need to get out of bed earlier and work with weights, do sit-ups and push-ups.

When I go shopping, I am parking further away so I can walk longer to the store. This is better than nothing right?

I feel confident that I will improve on this front and start to go to exercise class at night also.

Bottom Line

I lost about 5 pounds this week. Great results for week 1, wouldn’t you agree?

Moving Forward

I am going out to eat brunch today and I plan to write that up later. Time to go back to writing about my food experiences, maybe even post a few of the low fat, low calorie dishes I created this past week, all eaten in moderation.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

An Intervention About Food with Myself

It is sobering to see how much becoming friends with fellow foodies has been a catalyst to gaining weight. In fact it has resulted in my gaining twenty pounds since the end of my vacation when I meet up in person with some of my fellow Houston Chowhounds. I would not trade these new friends in, in order to lose weight, but I have to figure out a better way to share my passion for good food with them besides over indulging.

Let me make something very clear from the start - they are not fault. It is I, who knows that keeping my weight in check requires some vigilance on my part and certainly portion control. I know that making an exception with my eating habits just this one time has led to a succession of exceptions. It is just that they are so much fun to be with, to talk about food with, to get their recommendations about places to eat and then to eat there and share my experiences, and so on, and so on, and so on. Besides that fatty foods taste better and eating to much refined sugar leads to craving even more sugar. I had to stop and figure something out, or I could buy some new clothes in a larger size.

It is my obsession with eating flavorful and interesting food that has gotten me in trouble. When it tastes good, I just want to eat and eat. So I have, ate and ate. In fact I apparently increased my sugar intake dramatically without even realizing it.

It is also my lack of exercise that has contributed to my weight gain. I have not paid any attention to exercising. In the summer I would swim or do NIA almost every day. As soon as September rolled around, I stopped swimming. I stopped doing NIA except on the weekends and even then maybe only once. I fooled myself into thinking that it would be alright. My clothes got tighter and I pretended not to notice.

Between you and me, I even pretended to be watching what I was eating. Pretended to myself? But I wasn’t watching anything. I was eating three squares a day and snacking.

While I continued to eat lots of whole grain foods and fruit, I was eating lots of fatty and sweet foods as well.

How do I know this? I put myself on a 1600-2000 calorie a day diet a few days ago. I found program on the Internet called Calorie Counter. Calorie Counter is a great way to track what I am actually eating as I enter in everything on-line that I eat. The program is especially helpful for people who eat processed foods, as much of that information is already loaded into the system. Since I do not use much processed food, I do the best I can to put in all the ingredients I use to make a dish to get an accurate view of what I am eating. The program also rates the healthiness of the food.

In top of that, I am entering in my daily exercise. It is sobering to see what I am doing versus ignoring what I was not doing. The first day, I was so over the top, I decided to throw out that data.

After a few days I am getting the hang of using the program and I am already tweaking my habits, eating and exercise wise, to try to lose at least 15 pounds in the next few months. I know I will be successful with this program, because it shows me what I am and I am not doing well.

Does this mean the end of my food adventures? No way! I have not stopped eating or cooking. In fact, I will be cooking more as I need to have fresh, healthy food on-hand to eat, so I can get slimmer.

Please join me on this voyage, I need all the help and support I can get.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Going to South Africa without Leaving Houston: Out of Africa

A short twenty minute drive took me from the city out to the suburbs of Sugarland to visit a new South African restaurant called: Out of Africa.

On Sundays they have a Mimosa Brunch that features many of the items found on the regular menu as well as eggs, sausage and bacon.

On the outside, one can tell nothing abut what the resturnat will be like inside as it is in one of those ubiquitous looking strip malls that are found all over the United States. So it is a pleasant surprise to step into the dining room as see the room with a tasteful African feel.

I came with fellow Chowhounds Dorothy and jodycakes. We sat outside on the deck, next to the water, and for a few moments I felt transported from Houston to somewhere else. (Okay there was little humidity today.) For brunch they have a jazz pianist in the dining room and a speaker had been placed outside so we could enjoy the music there as well. The buffet was spread out in a room off the main dining room and easily accessible by those of us outside and well as the dinners inside.

Overall I found the food flavorful, with some Indian overtones, which included spices and chutneys. Some of the food was a bit spicy hot but not all of it. The breads I tasted, a biscuit and flour based corn muffin were delicious.

The best dish I had, which fellow lamb lover, Dorothy agreed with me about, was the Lamb Sosaties with Brandied Apricots. It consisted of skewers of lamb with plump dried apricots in between the lamb pieces. The meat was cooked perfectly, no easy feat with a buffet, charred on the outside and rare on the inside and not overly spiced, giving the brandied apricot a chance to offset the taste of the meat without overwhelming it.

Another main dish I really enjoyed was Bobotie, which looked like Sheppard’s Pie but tasted nothing like it. According to the restaurant’s web site, it is made of “minced lamb and beef spiced with raisins, apples, almonds and curry and baked with a custard topping.” I learned from the web site that I should have had it over the yellow rice with the mango sambol. (To bad the dishes did not have directions.) I liked the way the dish unfolded in my mouth, beginning with biting down on the slightly firm custard on top and then through the chopped meats as the flavors did a dance on my tongue.

I tried the Boerewors, a South African Sausage, which had an off taste to me. Both fellow Houston Chowhounds, jodycakes and Dorothy said it tasted like blood sausage, so perhaps I wouldn’t like that either.

Another one side I tasted, that I did not like was Ouma's Green Bean Mash, which was a tasteless combination of potatoes and overcooked green beans. Although I did not enjoy it, it reminded me of Southern style comfort food. Perhaps this dish may be better suited to another person’s taste or childhood memories.

My favorite side dish was the Pap and Trainsmash which was corn bread (Pap) that had the consistency of a thick porridge with a very tasty tomato and onion sauce (Trainmash) that I spooned on top.

Since I had overindulged just a couple of days ago at another brunch, I did not feel like tasting anything else. (Yes, call me a wimp, it is alright.) The dishes I did not try included a pork, chicken, and fish dish, as well as a pasta salad and a couple other salads.

I did leave a little room for dessert. I had a nice piece of a brandy pudding and a milk tart. Nothing left any great impressions.

Service was attentive and gracious, the atmosphere was warm and genuine (the owner came by and chatted with us) and the price, $19.95 for this buffet and unlimited Mimosas was reasonable.

Overall I have mixed feelings. I see this as a destination restaurant. I found the cooking and taste of the food a novelty, but not compelling enough that I am thinking about when I will be taking my friends out to Sugarland to the restaurant, or even when can I go back and try more dishes. I believe the South African food I ate at Out of Africa boils down to being comfort food. The food is interesting in a novelty sort of way, flavorful, and well prepared but not inexpensive, close by, or interesting enough for me to drive out to on any regular basis. Let’s face it - with all the variety that exists in Houston, this one just doesn’t strike my fancy.

Should you go to the restaurant? Yes by all means, go and experience South African food for yourself, it is worth at least one visit, the brunch has a huge variety of foods and was a great way to spent an early Sunday afternoon.

Out of Africa: 14019 Southwest Freeway #204, Sugar Land, TX 77478 281.277.2691

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Feasting at Feast: Lunch the Day After New Year’s

I realize that if I do not make some of my entries brief, I will never get to them done. One of my New Year’s resolutions is if I do not have time to write an in-depth review to just post a brief descriptionand some pictures on the blog.

I have reviewed Feast on Lower Westheimer twice already, please refer to the index on the right. Alison Cook put Feast on her list of the top new restaurants in 2008 I couldn’t agree more.

Originally I had wanted to visit Randy Rucker at Rainbow Lodge, because (1) I am a big fan of Randy’s cooking and (2) I never wrote up a review of my first visit there when I had the chef’s tasting menu (which was wonderful.) I’m never full had just written up the restaurant complete with great photos . But they were closed, due to the holidays.

So Feast with its reasonably priced two course lunch for $12.95, was a worthy second choice. Once I was in the rustic feeling dining room, being waiting on by Meagan, I knew I was in for a treat.

During my visit Feast inadvertently also had some entertainment for me to watch. The couple directly in my view could not keep their hands off of each other. It was quite steamy between the two of them. I know this sounds naughty, but I think they were married and not to each other. I have pictures, but I think I'll just refrain from posting them, just in case I am right.

For my first course I had the “French Fish Soup with Rouille and Croutons”, which I think had mustard rather than rouille, and also had a mild white cheese. The delightful aroma of the soup immediately perked me up, this was going to be a great year in food. I added the cheese, mustard and croutons into the soup. Needless to say, I did not leave a drop of soup and I would have licked the bowl had I been home. This could have been enough for lunch for me, but there was more.

My main course was “Steak Pot Pie with Cauliflower Cheese”. As a child I never enjoyed pot pies, as they always were a mush of vegetables and flavorless meat. This could not be further from the description of the pot pie at Feast. The brown sauce inside the pie was rich with the flavor of the meat and carrots, as well as other spices; I could have eaten that dish without the meat and have satisfied my meat cravings.

I do not know how they did it, but the steak was not dried out or tasteless. A forkful of the crust, with a baking soda overtone dipped in the brown sauce was a delight on the palate. The cauliflower on the side was a roasted piece of cauliflower with just a dusting of cheese and worked well as an accompaniment to the pot pie. I really struggled to finish the dish, but succeeded, which is a testament to how much I enjoyed it.

LOL - it looks like this did not turn out so brief.

Happy New Year and thank you for following my food adventures this past year!

Feast: 219 Westheimer Road, Houston, TX 77006 713.529.7788

Friday, January 2, 2009

Eleven Madison Park in the Big Apple

It was a beautiful New York Winter day. Despite having to change my reservations, not once, but three times, I had finally made it to Eleven Madison Park. EMP is known for the food but also for the breathtaking art deco interior.

A fellow Houston Chowhound, Justin had told anonymouseater that this was the place to eat in NYC. Anonymouseater in his review of EMP wrote that "Quite simply, EMP was the best meal of my life."

As I did not do the tasting menu, I can not judge anonymouseater’s experience in relationship with mine, except to say to you, that this was one of the best meals I have ever had. The service was top notch, the food, elegantly presented and cooked perfectly, and the art deco surroundings exquisite.

In all my excitement, I had never really paid attention to where the restaurant was situated. It was in one of my favorite NYC places, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Building, which use to be on my walking tours of that area of NYC when I lived there. The park across the street, Madison Square Park, where nickel bag drug dealers use to ply their trade when I worked on 5th Avenue in my early twenties are long gone and have been replaced by an assortment of people enjoying an attractive urban park.

Of course all these thoughts flew in and out of my brain quickly because my destination was the restaurant Eleven Madison Park and I was finally there.

As I walked through the doors, I was captivated by the high ceilings and art deco detail. We were promptly seated, with the adjoining tables empty for the majority of the meal. The light poured in from the ceiling to floor windows. With the attention our table received from the staff, I felt like a member of the privileged class for a couple of hours.

At this point you may be wondering if I am going to get to the food. Your patience is appreciated, this was fine dining and one should savor every drop of the experience, wouldn't you agree?

As I looked through the extremely well priced lunch menu, I knew that it would be a remote chance that I could taste my dining companions food as well, so I needed

to order carefully. My choices would not disappoint me until dessert (and even that would be a minimal disruption to my over all positive experience.)

The presentation of the food was outstanding. As a starter I ordered the "Parsnip Velouté with Sweetbreads and White Truffle Oil". Crispy fried sweetbreads sat in a buttery parsnip soup with overtones of lemon. I drank a glass of Claude Genet Champagne, which suited the dish just fine.

My main course was Braised Oxtail, with a layer of mashed potatoes on top, accompanied by brussel sprouts with mushrooms. Each bite of the oxtail, oozed with flavor and was a wonderful combination of textures. The accompanying brussel sprouts had enough bite in them to go well with the other textures and a mellow flavor that worked with with the oxtail. I had a lovely Rhone Valley Wine from Saint Joseph to accompany this course.

For dessert I had a Soufflé with Tahitian Vanilla and Passion Fruit,
that I enjoyed but found the citrus sauce a little bit over the top, taking away from the taste of the perfectly cooked soufflé.

I was scheduled to go to Jean-Georges, but I did not feel well the next day, so this has to suffice for my over the top NYC dining experience. I was not disappointed.