Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Weight Watchers, Meet Michael Pollan

My friend Ann looks great, just great. For three months, she combined Weight Watchers with Michael Pollan's food axiom, "Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants." and lost thirty pounds. This is her story.

Weight Watchers, Meet Michael Pollan

How I Combined Michael Pollan's Eating Rules
with Weight Watchers Tools
and Lost Thirty Pounds in Three Months

By Ann Getz

STUPID PANTS It all started early one October morning. I was at the gym to work out, I had been working out for a year. After showering, I put on the clothes in my bag, a pair of pants purchased months ago in the Junior Department at Kohl’s. (Why I bought them, I have no idea. They didn’t really fit then but my daughter thought I needed a pair of pants.) I could hardly button the stupid things and when I did, I had the biggest and grossest muffin top ever! I sucked in my breath and drove home. As soon as I was out of the car, my neighbor Julia said, “I really need to get back to Weight Watchers. Do you want to join with me?” My look must have freaked her out because she immediately retracted the statement. "Don’t worry," she said, "you don’t really need it. I just need help."

I CAN DO THIS BY MYSELF, IT'S JUST MATH Whenever I had contemplated losing weight (often), I knew it was all about portion control. No fancy stuff. Calories eaten, calories burned. Simple math. I also had a ‘thing’ against Weight Watchers. I just didn’t want to do it, not "them". I didn’t want to lose weight and have to tell people I used Weight Watchers. I have no idea why, but there it is.

WHACK ON THE HEAD When Julia saw my face, it wasn’t horror, contempt, or offense, it was thoughtfulness. "This is it," I thought. "This is my spiritual whack in the head." My pants were killing me and here my neighbor was, asking ME to help her lose weight. I was sick of seeing this old fat frumpy person in the mirror. Somehow, I had to reconcile this ‘hate’ of Weight Watchers.

I changed clothes into my size 14 baggie pants – a little big, but very comfy. My mind kept working and another thought hit me. Michael Pollan! I have read some of his stuff and his ideas are really interesting. He has a philosophy that really resonates with me. “Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.”

My teenage daughter Stefanie is very health conscious, very aware of the environment and our impact on it. Partly because of her, but mostly because of my own readings and thoughts, I have been trying to cut my carbon footprint. Pollan’s writing talks about the environmental impact of eating meat. I have also read this many other places. Our carnivorous ways are hard on the Earth!

I did nothing for a couple of weeks. But in the back of my mind, the mantra persisted: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

A BIRTHDAY AND A BREAKTHROUGH My birthday is in early November, that was my real starting point. Two days later, I joined Weight Watchers. I didn’t want to "diet". I wanted a lifestyle change that would follow me for the rest of my life. I wanted to feel and look better. I wanted to be a good example for my daughter Stefanie, an inspiration to my husband Randy. Something inside me said: NOW.

I was pretty sure about two of the three aspects of my Michael Pollan philosophy.

FIRST, EAT FOOD That means real food, not processed food.

Our family had been on this track for a little while. We belong to Fair Shares, a local CSA here in St. Louis, and get fresh food once a week from local farmers and other organizations. I have time to cook, time to think about what I am preparing for the family meals.

So much of our American diet comes from eating out. We don’t have that problem. We don’t eat ‘fast food’. (Well, my husband does ...) And, I can give up the Cheezits!

THIRD, MOSTLY PLANTS (Yes, I skipped Number Two, keep reading.) I was moving toward this anyway. Don’t get me wrong – I love a good New York strip steak! But not every meal, not every day. I really like fruits and vegetables, and with my CSA, I was already exploring all kinds of veggies that I had never used before. My husband cannot live without meat. He doesn’t consider dinner a complete meal unless it contains meat. Well, I thought, we can work around that!

SECOND, NOT TOO MUCH That was the part of the Michael Pollan bit where I needed the most help. How much is too much? I can figure out serving size, but how many can I have? That is where WW comes in, they have the tools!

DAY ONE, WHO DO I TELL? So the adventure begins. I sign up for WW online, I have no intention of going to a meeting. I tell my neighbor Julia and my first question to her is, Who should I tell? I don’t want to make this a big deal. How do I handle it? She told me to do what was comfortable. Well, I never thought about that!

I do tell my husband. His first reaction is to wonder how my decision will effect him. Will he have to eat "small portions" and "flavorless food" too? Aha, I realize that my challenge is to show my husband that it doesn’t have to be awful.

PUTTING WEIGHT WATCHERS & MICHAEL POLLAN TO WORK Life now goes something like this: Tell no one. Plan my points carefully. WW Points Plus lets you eat all the fruits and veggies you want – no points. (A few have points, but not many!) During the day, I eat fewer than ten points, a little protein and lots of fruits and veggies. I actually think that I am eating more during the day than before.

Dinner is not impacted much, at least on the WW side. It is hugely impacted on the ‘eat food’ ‘mostly plants’ side. I am fixing dinners filled with veggies, beans, whole grains, and loads of spices. On the nights when Randy is home, I make sure we have meat. He is only home about half the nights and Stefanie is totally good with the no-meat nights.

I weigh my food and measure my portions. I only had to do that a few times, then I get the hang of ‘size’ and it is easy.

HUNGER? Not that much. When Julia first did WW – she lost about 30 pounds and looks GREAT – she was always hungry, so hungry she fantasized about unlikely sources of food. I was a bit hungry during the day but I kinda like that feeling, I know I am working. I never went to bed hungry. Sometimes hunger is a motivator for me NOT to eat. A little counterintuitive, but it reminds me of my goal.

WHAT, REALLY, IS MY GOAL? Speaking of goals, when you sign up, WW makes you put in a goal weight. What weight did I want to be? I didn’t have a clue. How was I supposed to know, look at the chart and pick a number out of the air? All my adult life, I have stayed within a ten-pound range. At 155, I was "thin" and my clothes were loose. At 165, I was "fat" and my clothes were tight. I got married at 155 pounds and looked and felt great! By the way, I am five feet, seven and one half inches tall.

My goal was to have those stupid pants fit. Remember the ones I mentioned in the beginning that were way too tight? I picked 140 pounds as a number but really, it was those pants. I was going to work toward that 140 mark and then when I hit it, I would try on the pants and laugh. That was the plan!

MY SUPPORT SYSTEM So life moved along. My support system was Julia. That was it. I didn’t tell anyone else. When someone said I looked thinner, I said thanks, I was working out often. I weighed in every Friday and every Friday I called or texted Julia. Her husband also did – and still does – Weight Watchers. He is a machine. He lost so much weight that he looks like a different, and taller, person. He loves WW. So the three of us started having our own WW meetings. We held these often-weekly meetings in their hot tub in the backyard. You can’t do better than that!

NEW GOALS By early February, I change my goals. My stupid pants don’t fit – but because they are too big! I have moved my goal weight to 135 but may change that again. I look FABULOUS! I have never weighed this little in my whole life. (Barring growing up!) I feel great! My friends and co-workers now know what I am doing and are supportive. It is really nice to hear the compliments.

WHEN TO STOP? I am not sure about when to stop. Randy is adamant about me stopping now and say, “You have to stop. No more weight loss. Get on maintenance.” Hmmm, it is not like I am anorexic or about to be. I am only in the middle of the height/weight charts now. In a few weeks, we leave for a week's vacation and I know that I will not count points then. THAT is my stopping date. But what about a number?

I decide to ask my primary care doc for her advice. She said to stop at 136 pounds, that we all need a little cushion in case we get sick. What about the love handles? She said if I lose too much more, I will be underweight. She is really cool and I value her advice. So, I may drop one or two more pounds, then hover right around that 135 mark.

IT WASN'T THAT HARD You know, it wasn’t really that hard. I was in a good mental place to do this, and I think that is critical. Having no support from a spouse made it a little bit more of a challenge, but wasn’t detrimental. It did make it harder to celebrate all the victories along the way.

CELEBRATION And, celebration is needed. This was a big accomplishment and I did it. I am grateful to my neighbor Julia, to Michael Pollan, and to Weight Watchers.

MAINTENANCE I will check in about a year from now and tell you how the maintenance phase is going. Weighing in is critical – I have read that many places. Now I know my bathroom scale doesn’t weigh "heavy" – that was me! Now it is rather fun to get on the scale, I need to get acquainted with all these little numbers!

SHOPPING! In two months when I have kept off all this weight and the season has changed, I am calling my shopaholic cousin and she is taking me to buy all new – and stylish – clothes. I can’t wait for that!

More Weight Watchers Resources

WHAT WORKS? New York Times food guy Mark Bittman famously lost weight with his own regime, "Vegan Until Dinner". My friend Ann obviously found a sweet spot for herself, combining Weight Watchers and Michael Pollan's food rules. Do you have your own variation of Weight Watchers that works for you? I'd love to know! Comments are welcome! ~ Alanna

PS Do you have a "Weight Watchers story" to tell? When I asked Ann about telling hers, she was really happy to talk about it, it helped her work through and cement what had worked for her, what hadn't. If you have a story to tell, e-mail me, let's "talk", perhaps a guest post is in order!

Ann Answers Your Questions!

Last week, several of you asked questions of Ann, wanting to learn from her experience. Rather than answer comment by comment, she's answered the questions here. Thanks to all the readers who are confirming her journey, she's gone from "telling to no one" to "telling all of you" – a big step.

~ Alanna

Here's Ann again.

SWEETS First, let me say that my sweet tooth is tiny. Desserts are no problem to pass up and chocolate is off the radar. A few peanut M&M’s every six or eight months will do!

[Alanna's Note: The chocolate thing is the truth, she turns it down all the time! When her daughter was born, I was worried for her and so for a few years became her "chocolate mentor".]

FAMILY SUPPORT Second, my husband mostly didn’t interfere with what I was doing. I worked around him. But I missed his support. All my weekly losses and triumphs and watching the clothes not fit anymore could not be shared with him. That was a bummer. I never fixed different food. I never did that as my daughter was growing up, and I wasn’t going to start now. He liked what I fixed; he ate large portions. His work means he isn’t home for dinner much; so on the nights he was home, I made sure we had meat.

FATS Third, fats. I steer clear of fats as much as possible when cooking. I like fat, don’t get me wrong, but it was okay to reduce it.

Okay, enough numbering!

WHAT ANN EATS I ate (and still eat) lots and lots of fruits and veggies. My breakfast would consist of some fruit, and a little protein – either cottage cheese, yogurt, or a soy-type sausage. Around mid morning I would eat a banana. Lunch was usually more fruit, some raw veggies, and mainly soup that I fixed myself. I love veggie soups – and since this is winter – we have loads of squash and root vegetables. My soups are veggie broth, veggies of any and all types, sometimes with lentils, or beans, or some other whole grain or protein-ish thing. I use an immersion blender to thicken them up!

HUNGER Usually my point count was between 8 and 10 by the time I got to dinner. If I was hungry in the afternoon, I would ask myself this: Am I hungry enough to eat an apple? If yes, eat an apple. If no, don’t eat. Someone else – maybe even WW - made up that quote. Not me.

[Alanna's Note: Ann's and my friend Mary and I saw Michael Pollan speak a few weeks ago and this apple advice is his, we even talked about it later. It's a good stopping point, though I would have to substitute something a little more work than an apple, I like apples too much and would happily eat several a day!]

SALTY SNACKS Giving up salty snacks was maybe the hardest thing. But, if the choice was between a handful of pretzels or cheez-its, and Friday’s scale number, the no eating always won.

DINNER Dinner was relatively normal – just small amounts. I always drank a large glass of milk with dinner, so I had to consider that when figuring out how much to eat at dinner time.

AVOIDING PROCESSED FOOD I have been steering away from the ‘middle aisle’ at the grocery for quite some time. It helps to have a teenager who also doesn’t like to eat a bunch of junk. I don’t buy WW products – all those processed foods. I never bought them before ‘the diet’, why start now?

POLLAN IN MODERATION As far as the Pollan philosophy goes, I don’t do much of what he talks about. I do buy grass-fed beef and I also buy grocery store variety 1% milk. I don’t go all out with his stuff. That is too much for me. I do a little bit. Mostly what is comfortable for me.

BIG LESSONS I don’t have a fear of fats from WW. I do have a new appreciation of portion control and how much those little snacks add points quickly. I have learned a lot. More to go, but this is a good start.

© Copyright 2012 Kitchen Parade

Friday, February 24, 2012

Orange-Kissed Marshmallows

Ever wonder if there's a way to make handmade marshmallows? There is! To prove it, I've made Orange-Kissed Marshmallows and y'know, it was really fun. Get ready, it's Marsh Madness!

Orange-Kissed Marshmallows

Welcome to Marsh Madness, the celebration of the sugar confection that is the homemade marshmallow which has what? – alliteration aside – to do with March Madness, the NCAA Basketball Tournament? Nothing, dear readers, but we’re stickin’ to the story, okay?

Once upon a time, I made a big impression on two diehard Canadian sports guys (one is now this bigshot with the CFL) who almost splurted their beers when a certain American banker in short skirts and high heels (didn’t I say "once upon a time"?) was Sweet Sixteen conversant and had at least 60 seconds of intelligent understanding of a certain KU-KState boys basketball matchup.

And now I hope to impress the judge of all-things-Marsh-Madness, cookbook author and marshmallow maven Shauna Sever to make my way to the Final Four of food bloggers participating in this friendly competition of Marsh(mallow) Madness.

I’ve been assigned to the Western Bracket – that’s me from the middle-of-the-country Missouri with four bloggers from right-there-on-the-Pacific-Ocean California which makes as much sense as Mizzou switching from the Big Eight (oh wait, it was the Big Twelve there at the end) to the SEC, the SouthEast Conference. But I digress.

In the mean time, I really did have big fun making marshmallows at home, learning lots and turning out three batches of perfect marshmallows, Vanilla (too plain and sugary for my taste), Black Walnut (which were wondrous and very Missouri-ish but which don’t really work with the more-available English walnuts so which I nixed for sharing here) and then my very favorite, these orange-kissed marshmallows, bright and perky, sugary but with lots of orange essence.

Want to follow all the fun? On Twitter, use the hashtag #MarshMadness. Serious Eats is a sponsor, here's what they're posting. And check out the Marsh Madness brackets at Quirk Books, the publisher and sponsor.

Better yet, make your own marshmallows! Naturally, I have tips.


WORK AREA The syrup is sticky-sticky, even a careful cook (ahem) might make a mess. Consider putting down a silicone mat to work on. Have a sink of hot water waiting for pots, measuring cups, spatulas, spoons, etc.

PAN SIZE I prefer using a 9x13 for about ten dozen bite-size marshmallows (cutting 9 slices one way, 13 the other) but the inspiring recipe specifies an 8x8 for 25 large, thick marshmallows (cutting 5 slices one way and 5 the other).

SAUCEPAN for STOVETOP SYRUP Choose a medium-size saucepan, I use a two-quart saucepan and it’s big enough to allow for the syrup to swell up. My favorite LeCreuset pot is a little heavy for lifting and pouring hot syrup into the standing mixer so I switched to a lighter one, much better.

KITCHEN SCALE This is an easy recipe to work with weight not volume. It’s lickety-slick to place the saucepan onto the scale and add the Stovetop Syrup ingredients by weight. It works that way for the bowl of the standing mixer too! Sweet!

CANDY THERMOMETER A glass thermometer will make life easy, just make sure that the bulb doesn’t touch the bottom of the saucepan. For experienced candy-makers without one, the Stovetop Syrup cooks to the “soft ball” stage.

STANDING MIXER I love my hand mixer and happily baked without a stand mixer for thirty years (yikes). But marshmallows, I think, really do require one. Ask a neighbor if you can borrow hers in exchange for marshmallows!

OTHER USEFUL TOOLS A sieve helps evenly spread the coating onto the still-sticky marshmallows but you could also use a teaball for loose tea or a “fairy duster” used for making pie crust. A pizza cutter is slick-slick-slick for cutting the marshmallows into pieces.

HOT SYRUP Hot syrup is hot-hot-hot and it will burn-burn-burn. Be very careful when pouring into the mixer.

WHEN IS IT MIXED ENOUGH? I made three batches of marshmallows and followed these instructions exactly with 100% success following nothing but the time instructions. Still, just so you know, after whipping, the mixture should be the consistency of the thickest meringue you can make.

WEATHER Weather supposedly makes a difference when you’re making marshmallows, the dryer the better. But I was basically forced to make marshmallows on two of the wettest and dreariest winter Missouri days. No problem.

ALTITUDE If you live anywhere other than at sea level, you’ll need to adjust the temperature to aim for when cooking the syrup. You probably already know the calculations, right? If your water boils at 202F instead of the 212F at sea level, you’ll need to shoot for ten degrees less than 250F, that is, for 240F.

SO CALL ME OLD-FASHIONED Who else loves that the old-fashioned candy-making measurements of “soft ball” and “hard ball” require no tools and no math?

Kitchen Parade is written by second-generation food columnist Alanna Kellogg and features fresh, seasonal dishes for every-day healthful eating and occasional indulgences. Do you have a favorite recipe that other Kitchen Parade readers might like? Just send me a quick e-mail via How to print a Kitchen Parade recipe. Never miss a recipe! If you like this recipe, sign up for a free e-mail subscription. If you like Kitchen Parade, you're sure to like my food blog about vegetable recipes, too, A Veggie Venture. Follow Kitchen Parade on Facebook!


Hands-on time: 35 minutes up front, 15 minutes to finish
Time to table: 9 hours
Makes a 9x13 pan (almost 10 dozen bite-size marshmallows)
  • 3/4 cup (160g) sugar
  • 1/4 cup (80g) light corn syrup (that's clear corn syrup, not the “lite” with Nutrasweet corn syrup and not the dark corn syrup some folk like on pancakes)
  • 1/4 cup (60g) water
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 1/4 cup (60g) cold water
  • 4-1/2 teaspoons (16g, that’s 2 Knox gelatin envelopes) powdered gelatin
  • 1/2 cup frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed but cold
  • 1/4 cup (80g) light corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon orange extract
  • 1/2 cup (70g) powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons (25g) cornstarch
  • Zest of an orange

STOVETOP SYRUP Measure ingredients into a medium-size saucepan and stir with a wooden spoon just to combine. Attach the candy thermometer to the side of the pot. Bring the mixture to a boil on medium high and let boil until the mixture reaches 250F – aim for rapid bubbles not furious bubbling. The mixture can bubble away by itself but an occasional stir won’t hurt. Keep a close eye on the thermometer while proceeding, the move from 200F to 250F can go fast.

STANDING MIXER Meanwhile, insert the “whisk” attachment, it’s the one with balloon-shaped wire blades used for whipping cream.

Measure the water into the mixer bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over top and stir in with a spoon. Stir in orange juice concentrate. Let rest 5 minutes, it will noticeably thicken.

Add 1/4 cup corn syrup and turn mixer on the lowest speed, let run on low until the syrup is ready.

MAKE MARSHMALLOWS! As soon as the syrup is ready, work quickly but carefully. Slowly pour the syrup into the mixing bowl while the mixer is still running on low.

Turn up speed to medium and mix for 5 minutes. The mixture will cool and begin to thicken and inflate.

Turn up speed to medium high and mix for another 5 minutes. During this time, the mixture will triple in volume and become thick and increasingly glossy.

Add the orange extract and turn up speed to high and mix for another 1 to 2 minutes. Use a knife to scrape marshmallow mixture off the whisk blades into the bowl.

PREPARE PAN While the mixture whips, spray a 9x13 pan or 8x8 pan.

COATING While the mixture whips, measure sugar, cornstarch and orange zest into a small food processor and whiz a few times to make a fine, orange-y powder.

PULL IT ALL TOGETHER Pour the marshmallow mixture into the pan and spread smooth to the edges. Use a sieve to sprinkle about half the Coating evenly over the top.

COOL & CURE Let rest – uncovered for better drying – in a cool place for 8 hours, a garage and a wine cellar worked great here.

CUT & COAT Run a knife along the side of the pan to help release. Turn the pan over, releasing the marshmallow in one big whomp onto the mat. Sprinkle the remaining coating onto the sticky side.

Use a pizza-cutter to cut into pieces. This is the moment when you look to the heavens and say, “Mom, you won’t believe this bu I just made marshmallows!” Then calm down and get back to work. With your hands, gently toss the pieces in the loose coating, coating the pieces on all sides of each piece.

TO STORE Store marshmallows in a single layer in tins lined with waxed paper, leave the lids slightly cracked so air can get in. Save any excess coating in a small ziplock bag just in case the marshmallows need more later. In my experience, they do.

SAVOR! Best eaten within a few days but if stored in a dry cool place, taste fresh even several weeks later but do need another toss in the coating.

NUTRITION ESTIMATE Per Marshmallow/Per 9 Marshmallows: 14/132 Calories; 0g Tot Fat; 0g Sat Fat; 0mg Cholesterol; 6/55mg Sodium; 4/33g Carb; 0g Fiber; 3/25g Sugar; 0/1g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS Old Points 0/1, PointsPlus 0/3 So marshmallows are hardly diet food but honestly, I was blown over how few calories are in a homemade marshmallow. If you have self-control? This could be a great low-calorie treat.
Adapted from Marshmallow Madness by Shauna Sever. It has a poofy cover, just like a marshmallow! DISCLOSURE This post was written as part of a promotion hosted by Quirk Books which provided a copy of the book for review in exchange for my personal and honest opinions. No other form of compensation was received. My Disclosure Promise
If you're keen on making marshmallows, Marshmallow Madness is a great resource. The recipes range from the basic to the inventive and are packed with the extra little tips that inspire confidence in the kitchen. I especially like that the author seems to want us to deviate from her recipes. C'mon, she seems to say, Isn't this fun? And it was. My own Orange-Kissed Marshmallows started with her recipe for Concord Grape Marshmallows. And have you seen the frozen juice section lately? Wow, what a variety of marshmallow flavors you might explore, just with this one recipe.

MANY THANKS to Quirk Books and the very quirky Eric Smith, who blogs at Eric Smith Rocks (and he does) and who corralled us all into this fun little blogging competion.

Win a Copy of Marshmallow Madness - Sorry, These Are Closed Now

Several bloggers are sponsoring give-aways for the cookbooks. Check out Kitchen Konfidence and Love Veggies and Yoga.

Marshmallow Madness by Shauna Sever

Other participating bloggers who have already posted their marshmallow ideas are Sweets by Sillianah and Teenie Cakes. Be sure to check them out!

Still more will post during the next couple of weeks. So you'll want to check out Baked Bree on February 28, Homemade Quirk on February 29, Barbara Bakes on March 1, Foodie Bride on March 2, Cleaning Plates on March 5, Cinnamon Spice & Everything Nice on March 6, Small Kitchen College on March 7, Culinary Cory on March 8, The Queen's Notebook on March 9, Ice Cream Before Dinner on March 13, The Kitchenarian on March 14, Nibble Me This on March 15, Love & Olive Oil on March 16. Whew.

Cutting Perfect Marshmallow Squares Is Easy

Cutting Orange-Kissed Marshmallows

Just use a pizza cutter! I used a 9x13 pan and cut 9 rows one way and 13 the other. This makes nearly ten dozen bite-size marshmallows, the perfect size, if you ask me.

This Week, Years Past 2002 - 2011

Chicken Cacciatore (<< personal favorite) Greek Feta Chicken Mushroom Soup Pork & Poblano Skillet Gashouse Eggs My Mom's Pancake Recipe Homemade Spaghetti Meat Sauce Sugar-Free Raspberry Bliss

This Week, Elsewhere

Beggar's Purses from McGurk's Public House
My Column in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

More Candy Recipes

(hover for a description, click a photo for a recipe)
Graham Cracker Toffee Homemade Microwave Caramel Corn Sesame Candy

Bet You Didn't Know These Can Be Homemade Too

(hover for a description, click a photo for a recipe)
Homemade Finnish Mustard Sugar-Free Chai Tea Homemade Ricotta - Skinny & Creamy

Shop Your Pantry First

(helping home cooks save money on groceries)

© Copyright 2012 Kitchen Parade