Saturday, July 31, 2010

Eating like the French

Meet my sister Paula.

Out of four children (3 girls, 1 boy), she is the one that we liked to speculate was "adopted." Now clearly she's not since she looks just like my mother and my niece, shares the same brown eyes as myself, and has a bit of the family temper we all experience. But there is a stark difference between her and the rest of us: Paula doesn't really struggle with her weight.

From L-R: Angela, Jacob, and Paula circa 1980-something
Best Part? Ang has no eye holes!
But I digress, the point of this pic is to notice how similar Paula and Jake look. 
Clearly no one is adopted.

While Angela and myself were "chunky" in middle school, slimmed down some in high school/college, and now continue to rely on weight watchers to keep us near to, but not quite at, our fantasy goal weight of 135, Paula was slim throughout her childhood and college. She gained a few pounds right after she got married, but nothing extraordinary. Then after having her baby girl, she slimmed down to 10 pounds below her pre-pregnancy weight with hardly any other effort exerted than breast feeding.

The three May girls! (Ang, Me, Paula)

Now Paula will probably disagree that she doesn't have a weight issue, because she's a woman and weight issues follow us all it seems- regardless of size. However, being healthy (and a size 4/6) for her has always seemed to come so easily, and I think I finally know why. Here are some other notable differences about Paula that probably contribute.

First of all, Paula is a picky and a (sometimes) territorial eater. Mom loves to tell the story of the time they were in Pizza Hut when Paula was a baby, and she refused to eat her baby food. Even though Paula had no teeth, Mom ended up having to cut the pizza up into very tiny pieces to get Paula to eat anything. We also love to tease Paula about the time she almost killed our brother-in-law because he ate one of her super-secret stashed lean cuisines out of the basement freezer. Paula was always adding to or picking around what we ate for dinner. Sometimes she'd just flat out eat something else, and clearly it worked for her.

Secondly, Paula is a careful eater. She loves to try new tastes and flavors, but she rarely goes overboard. Pumpkin Pie is one of her favorite things ever, but I've seen her leave a few bites on her plate many times saying "I'm stuffed." And I'm sure she rarely went back to the actual pie to scoop out bites that one by one added up to a second or third piece like I always did. She's darn good at stopping when she's satisfied, and it doesn't seem to take much to satisfy her.

Finally, Paula eats real foods (with the exception of the lean cuisines during her college years). Especially since having Paisley, Paula is very much for "quality over quantity," and this means very, very few processed foods for her family. She has suffered many occasional freak outs coming home to find Mom feeding Paisley canned fruit made with Splenda or fat-free cheese, but I know she's doing what's best for her daughter and herself.

After all these years of wondering what her secrets were and speculating that she simply had a higher metabolism (whatever that means), I think I finally understand. Paula eats like a French woman.

Now, Paula is no more French than I am, but she's instinctively mastered the art of the "French Paradox." If you are unfamiliar with what that is, it is simply the observation that people in France do not have the obesity issues that people in America do, yet they eat rich croissants, butters and oils, wines, and other "forbidden" foods on a daily basis. I'm learning all about it in a novel I picked up from McKays called French Women Don't Get Fat. It really has turned out to be a very interesting book, as the author is quite frank about the French view of food. They eat often. They LOVE to eat. And when they eat it almost always includes several courses. Now, how do they get away with it? The answer is really quite simple and it's something that we Americans have forgotten (or never learned) how to do.

First- Enjoy your Food
So many of the calories in this country are consumed out of a package, in the car, in front of the tv, in a rush, or at our work desk. How can you even taste the food when you've been watching Jersey Shore the whole 5 minutes it took you to eat? No wonder you're still hungry! I have always been aware of this problem, but I never realized how much it applied to me. And I especially didn't understand how to fix it until I read this book.  The challenge? Make every meal special. Eat a small portion of what I want, but savor it, chew each bite slowly and thoughtfully, really taste my food. Don't eat with distractions- focus on nothing but the feeling. Eat at a table with flatware and flowers or candles. Make it special. Now I must admit, eating breakfast alone in the quiet of my apartment the first time, trying to pretend I was people watching at a Parisienne cafe was... a little awkward. However, I soon noticed how much better my food tasted! The smooth saltiness of my fried egg paired with the chewy toasted english muffin. The sweet burst of the cherry in my mouth. The nutty chocolate accents in my coffee. It was wonderful! And to top it all of, I was perfectly full when I finished my meal! I even had to leave a few cherries for later. I found I was satisfied with much less than I am accustomed to eating.

See? Special!

I think that I'm discovering something else about myself in the meantime. I love the pleasure of eating, and I crave the feeling regularly. This is why I'm often snacking all day or grabbing a bite of cheese and a piece of fruit when I just finished lunch. However, if I can enjoy a meal, and really enjoy it- I don't need to eat as much or as often as I have been. I actually stayed within my points yesterday without any issue at all. I can eat just one bite of cake and stop at that, satisfied. This is not something that comes naturally to me, but now that I know the secret- I have something to work on. It's not hard at all, and actually it's really fun for me since I adore food so much! I get to plan exciting dinners that I can't wait to taste. I can leave a table without feeling stuffed or guilty. I can even have a bit of dessert to tame my sweet tooth guilt-free, because it's all about enjoying your food.

Second- Borrow from Peter to Pay Paul
Now that doesn't mean you don't have to think through what you put on your plate. It's also about give and take. For example- we went to O'Charley's the other day and I really, really, really wanted some french fries. So I got them, but I limited myself to only one of their rolls, only ate half of my salmon filet,  took the croutons off the salad, and had the dressing on the side. Finding something at each meal you can live without in order to have a bit of something indulgent is a trick of French women that I've tried and loved. Hopefully this will become habit soon so that I can enjoy both my love for food AND my love for clothes in small sizes. I have a hunch this is a big part of Paula's secret. And since we had the same upbringing and we share the same genes- I feel in my gut that I can be successful in this as well.

Third- Quality over Quantity
Since discovering food blogs, watching documentaries like Food, Inc., and reading every book by Michael Pollan, I've been trying hard to focus on eating whole foods 90% of the time. I would take eating a delicious crunchy apple over drinking a glass of sugary apple juice any day. Taking the time to bake my own cookies, rather than purchase stale ones from a package, means my chocolate chip treat tastes that much better. Sure it's a bit more work. Sure it can take a little extra time since you have to *gasp!* chop your own veggies. But in the end it's cheaper and just so much yummier. Case in point, last night we went to McDonalds for an ice cream cone. Normally their ice cream is thick and creamy- one of the few fast food items we still regularly eat. However last night it was incredibly icy, and I can't even tell you how disappointed I was. When you truly eat to enjoy, most pre-made foods just aren't going to cut it. Besides, unprocessed foods have more nutrients and less sugar than anything else you'd find in a grocery store. It's so easy to unwrap a frozen pizza and pop it in the microwave, but I imagine the French would shudder at that idea. Imagine a fresh baked pizza topped with the best ingredients and I think you'll see that the frozen pizza just isn't as good. It's the reason why Robert and I hate buffets- Quality ALWAYS trumps Quantity.

Real Salmon, Brown Rice, Salad, Mushrooms, and Sparkling Water- 
Best Lunch Ever! And I couldn't finish it all.

So here's to eating like a French Woman... and to the size six jeans I want to fit in this fall! Also, I obviously left out 99% of the wisdom that French Women Don't Get Fat has to offer. So please, do us both a favor and go check it out from the library if you can! Or if you ask nicely, I'll grab you a copy from McKays.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Olive Bread is Hard Work

I am so into baking right now, it's not even funny. Since my last bread endeavor (Foccacia for Mary's Birthday Party) went so well, I decided I wanted to bake some more fresh bread today. I found a recipe in one of my cook books for Olive Bread, and it sounded amazing! I know olives can be a bit of a controversial topic among tastes, but I think they are lovely. Salty and dense... Yum! And hopefully the bread will carry those flavors perfectly.

(in case you can follow my babblings and want to bake some yourself)
1.25 cups of warm water (105*-115* F not too hot!)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 package active dry yeast
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3.25 cups of all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1.5 teaspoons salt
0.5 teaspoons dried thyme
20 pitted kalamata olives, halved. (I used green olives and cut them into chunks.)

 I started my baking endeavor as any seasoned cook would- by misreading the directions. Yep. I added the warm water to the bowl and sprinkled in the yeast, stood back and expected the magic foam to begin! Uhhh... Why aren't you foaming yeasts? Oh that's right. Because I only woke you up and I didn't give you anything to eat! I went back to reread the directions, accidentally read the directions for the page before and added the sugar and the salt to the bowl in the yeast, stirred gently, and crossed my fingers. Oh crap. I wasn't supposed to add the salt! Just the sugar! Good grief, I've killed them all! This was more or less my exact train of thought as I imagined the poor little yeasties shriveling up in the salted water. Although thankfully they are tough, they were fine, and they began to foam.

mmmm... yeasty.

Speaking of yeast, does anyone find it weird that yeast are alive? I think about this stuff a lot being the biologist that I am, and I can't help but find it cool to imagine the yeasts as the little sock puppets from Good Eats, chowing down on the sugars and burping carbon dioxide bubbles to give my bread some lift. And no, it actually doesn't weird me out one bit. But that, I'm sure, makes me weird. I imagine if it did make you squeamish, you'd have to choose to believe what most meat eaters believe when their steak arrives at the table- that it's all magic!

Now, while the yeasts were doing there thing, I searched for a jar of kalamata olives. Oh wait. I don't have any. Only the green ones, but I suppose they'll do. I began to pull them out and count them one by one. Realizing I only had 16 instead of 20,  I cursed my unpreparedness and promptly sloshed olive brine all down my cabinets. Whoops. Don't worry, this is normal. I grabbed a little knife and went to work pitting the olives by hand. This, you may know, is not easy and took longer than the five minutes the yeast mixture was supposed to be foaming.

Yes. It is as difficult as it looks. No. I will not buy a pitter.

Once the timer dinged, I abandoned my pitting and added the oil, 3 cups of the flour, and the seasonings (which should have included the salt) to the yeast mixture.

I often wonder if I get more flour on the cabinet than I do in the bowl.

I stirred until the dough just began to form, then I kneaded in the olive chunks (which I had hastily finished pitting) by hand.

Beasted olives. 

Now at this point, the recipe tells me to turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead the remaining 1/4 cup of flour in 1 tbsp at a time until the dough is smooth and elastic. This should take about 10 minutes. I look at my club-like dough covered hands and consider getting out my stand mixer and dough hook. I decide it would be too messy. Sighing, I grab a cutting board, toss on some flour, attempt to de-dough my hands, and turn out the bread.

Scary mass of sticky dough-ness

I kneaded. And kneaded. And kneaded. The dough was extremely sticky and I got flour and dough pretty much everywhere, but that's ok. It's quite normal for me- ask my husband. I'm not sure if I kneaded for the obligatory 10 minutes, but I got bored and the dough looked smooth enough for me.

Looks a little better right?

I sprayed a bowl with canola oil, put the dough ball back in the bowl, and then tried to cover the bowl with cling wrap. I say "tried" because I never can get that stuff to cling to anything, so I did the best I could and weighted it down with a dish towel to keep in the warm, moist air the yeasts were so graciously burping for me.

Clingwrap. You lie.

I set the timer for 90 minutes and commenced kitchen cleaning number one.

Yikes. There were three cleanings total if you were wondering.

An hour and a half later, and it's time for more kneading. (Grrr.) Although it was much less messy this time. I grabbed my baking stone, sprinkled it with flour, and then punched down and kneaded the dough with flour covered hands about 10 times.

Yay! No club hand!

After that I shaped it into a 6 in circle, placed it on my floured stone, re-covered it with plastic wrap, and let it rise 30 more minutes.

Back to work yeasties!

Now I'm going to heat my oven to 400*F, cut a big X on the top of the dough and bake for 40-45 minutes until the loaf sounds hollow. Yay! My favorite part!

Dough does not cut very easily.

After a slightly burnt crust...

It looks scarier than it tastes- promise. 

and a slightly burned thumb, 

This feels scarier than it looks. 

I finally got my piece! Was it worth it? Ohhhh yeaahhh. I'm gonna try this recipe again with cherries and see if I can't make a sweet bread! 

I've eaten like 12 of these. Just kidding! Or not...

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Few of My Favorites

Here are some things that I love right now... 

Shenanigans! And the fact that I can fit inside our dryer... 
(for some reason, it gives me a self-esteem boost.)

"Squishy" babies- This is Eyan. He belongs to my friends Sean and Adrienne. 
He has awesome cheek structure. :)

Laughing Kiddos. 

Robert with a baby! (Our niece, Kaycie)
He's a natural. But don't expect us to have any of our own anytime soon!

My Sisters. BOTH of them! Even the one who couldn't make it home for the weekend. 
(I even like how much she and I look like each other!)

My Family! 
(Like a more scandalous version of the Partridge Family)

My Amazing, Godly, Incredibly Graceful Grandmother <3

My Puppers! 
(even if she does have demon eyes in this pic)

One Year (and a few months... the cake was at Mom's in the freezer and we kept forgetting to get it) with my amazing, wonderful, so loving and super handsome husband!

P.S. Who says year old wedding cake is bad? We're still doing work on this thing! 

Saturday, July 24, 2010


Physics Praxis is OVAH! And I beasted it! Just kidding. I guessed on half. The mechanics problems were a piece of cake but the electricity and magnetic field questions ate my soul. So don't expect me to pass, but I could shock myself. I'm just so happy to be done with it for real. Now there's more time for dance team to eat my soul. :P

Seriously though, I wish you could smell my house right now. It's something magical, I tell you! Mary (my friend from Karns) is having a birthday cookout this evening, so I decided to go all-out gourmet for it. First I made a melon-berry fruit toss with honey-orange mint syrup. (Let's be honest. It's a fruit salad. But a fancy fruit salad.) And then for the piece de resistance... Home Made Focaccia. Not even kidding. I made that jank from scratch too, and I even mixed up some seasoned olive oil for dipping. It is HEAVENLY! And it made my house smell like the Olive Garden in the best way possible. I wish I had documented the process for the blog, but that will have to wait for next time.

Speaking of documenting for the blog... I really need to take more pictures. I'm not a fan of the point and shoot that I have though. Maybe Bobert will let me get a new, slimmer one that will fit in my purse better. That will probably have to wait though considering we bought a ton of new stuff for the house yesterday. We got an adorable front door mat and a kitchen rug. Then we got some baskets for the bathroom so that it's more organized. And honey and I spent all day yesterday cleaning, so we felt quite accomplished when we sat down to waste an hour watching a documentary on the 50 worst movies ever made, and NOT studying physics. :)

Doesn't that just give you warm fuzzies? I <3 Birds. 

Thursday, July 22, 2010

My Hair Hurts.

I am sick! And it really really sucks. I was doing so well on my marathon training, and then the sickies attacked. But I'm feeling a bit better, so we'll see how it turns out. Hopefully I'll be able to get back out there by tomorrow or Saturday.

Robert and I have set our goal! Walt Disney World Half-Marathon 2012! EEEEE! I've got butterflies just thinking about it! It's kind of crazy because it starts at 5:40am, is in January, and is super long; but I can't imagine a cooler place to run 13.1 miles than Disney World! And Bert and I will have park tickets remaining from our trip this fall, so we have to go back anyway. Just gotta start getting back into running again... as soon as I can breathe properly anyway.

So Mom and Ang and the Bay-bays came to visit this week and we had a blast as always! Lots of swimming in the pool, and they even took me to Pancake Pantry because they are amazing! After the PP we went to Wonder Works because I had some free passes. That place is so much more fun with kids! Kenleigh and I danced and danced and danced in the light/disco room. It was great!

1week update: I have read religiously (tee hee- no pun intended) every night except last night... mainly because I felt like my head would explode and since it was Wednesday, I had already spent 20 minutes with the Bible at church so Bert said I could just go to bed. Have I learned anything? Well yeah. Sometimes 20 minutes feels like a really long time, but I think that's because I'm stuck in Numbers right now. Which is terribly boring at times. Again, I it's something that I've always wanted/needed to do, so it's been a good challenge.

P.S. I'm still flossing! :) And the pic is from last weeks visit with Baby Liam! <3

Sunday, July 18, 2010

First Week

The first 1week challenge was a success! Sort of, lol! I forgot to floss the first night, but I did every night after that. What did I learn? That not flossing is just lazy, ha! At least I've started a good habit. Oh and that flossing is boring to write about. ;)

This week I've decided that my 1week challenge will be to spend 20 minutes every night reading my bible. I'm notorious for not doing a daily devotion, and I really need to change that.

Camp last week was a ton of fun! We did an entire day on Tuesday that was reversed- campfire as soon as we woke up and breakfast at 9pm. That was probably the most exciting part of the week. Other than Scott taking a chainsaw to the picnic table the kids spent a day and a half making... That probably needs a bit more explanation. See, this was an illustration about how God spent so much time and energy on his creation only to have it destroyed by sin. Scott with the chainsaw was representative of the Fall, and the backwards day was representative of the whole world being turned upside down. It was actually a really cool way to show them, and then they got to rebuild another picnic table to symbolize Jesus repairing our relationship with God. And we promised we wouldn't take a chainsaw to this one. :)

Mom, Ang, and the babies are here for a few days, so we've been hanging out with them. Tomorrow we're going to the Pancake Pantry in Gatlinburg and I have NO idea what to get. The weight watchers thing has not been working out for me this time. :( Too much time away from home, etc. etc. etc. So many excuses. Bah. I'll get there though. At least I'm determined to keep trying!

Cute Camp Kiddos! (LOL at Sydney in the back!)

Sunday, July 11, 2010


Alrighty, it's official! I will be using my bloggy for an unspecified amount of time to challenge myself to do all the things I think will make a little bit better. I'm calling it my 1week challenge, because I can do anything for a week and I couldn't think of a better name. If you are reading this and have a good name for my little mini project- let me know! :D

For the first week, since I'll be gone to camp, I'm starting off small.

This week I will... floss every night. :)

I'm terrible about flossing, and there's so much research that avoiding it can lead to heart disease, etc. I just feel like it's not that difficult and I don't really have an excuse not to. Hopefully I can make it a habit. I'll let you all know how it changes my life (and all about camp) on Friday!

Dang Girl!

Ha ha! You don't even want to KNOW how much food I ate today. Seriously, it's scary.

I actually got my run in though- 30 minutes of intervals and realizing that even a 10min/mile pace is hard for me to maintain. Oh well, gotta start somewhere right? I like this exercising everyday thing. It's hard while I'm on the treadmill, but then I feel really good when it's over.

After working out I made a diaper cake for my friend Jess's shower. There was so much food there! And I ate a bunch of fruit and veggies... and maybe my weight in home made mints that tasted like buttercream icing straight off the side of a cake. Some days my love/hate relationship with foods just gets the best of me. Good thing I run now.

Went to a hibachi grill with friends after the shower, and then hung around the "mall" in M'ville. Yes it's supposed to be in quotation marks. We all know that M'ville does not actually have a mall... I tore Belk apart looking for a fossil purse and ended up with another Maxi dress and some bangles from Cato.
We had a good time just hanging out though, and we may have gone out for ice cream. Man, I'm weak!

So, my day was pretty uneventful, but I've been thinking about my little blog. I think it could be fun to do a weekly blog experiment where I try to improve myself in some way, shape, or form. It could be a serious improvement, like do a good deed and write about it everyday, or it could be something silly, like floss. Anyway, it would give me a mini-challenge and hopefully provide for some entertaining writing. And it will give me a chance to try all the things I've wanted to- like be a vegan for a week, etc. I'll come up with a name for my challenge and think about what I want to do my first week of self-improvement. I'll let you know what it is tomorrow. It can't be anything exciting though, because we'll be at camp all week so no blogging from there! Next weeks challenge will be more exciting though, promise! :)

Friday, July 9, 2010


I miss my husband and my dog. That is all.

Cross-training today instead of running. I'm doing thirty minutes on the stationary bike and thirty minutes with Jillian Michaels and yoga. Finally got to the grocery store, so the food situation at the May house is much better. Sorry there's not a lot going on; I just wanted to keep my promise to myself to try and post every day that I can.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Playing the gain

Ha ha! No post since April? I have no excuse. In fact, I'm hoping I realize that I don't have an excuse for a lot of things- training for my races, sticking to weight watchers, studying for physics, not being an angst-ridden young adult...

So what's been going on this summer... Well I missed writing about a lot-

My birthday- lots of fun. All Ashby children and spouse's were present. We ate key lime pie and cheese fries. I gained 2 lbs.

End of the year- My students did SUPER well on their EOC! All but three of them passed the test, so I'm very proud. I ate a lot of cheese fries out of stress. I gained 2 more lbs.

Beach week with the fam- An entire week of the beach, babies, and two kitchens full of processed yumminess. Great for the soul! Bad for the waistline. +1 lbs.

Puerto Rico- Amazing trip as usual! Robert's first time on an airplane (He loved it). Did a lot of manual labor at the school obviously since I came home and someone accused me of not going because they thought I wasn't tan enough. We did get to do a few things just for fun though- Robert and I went to bioluminescent bay and I got to show off my mad science teacher skills! ID'ing all the dinoflaggelates and what not! The last day we went to El Yuncae (the local rainforest) and the beach for a day. All in all Puerto Rico is a lot of fun, but very limited in the vegetarian food choices. Most of their dishes (and practically all of their "healthy" ones) included some sort of meat. I ate a lot of pineapple and fruit, but I also ate a lot of fried things and ice cream. Add 3 more lbs please.

Home from Puerto Rico, I stepped on the scale to find a number I hadn't seen in a year. Sigh. Here we go again. Now I'm signed up for weight watchers for another round, so you'll probably here quite a bit about that. But you'll also hear about the races I'm running! Our second 5k was July 3rd, but I don't know my time as my timing chip apparently messed up. We're running another in August and then a mud run in September. There's a HALF-MARATHON! (gulp!) in Oak Ridge November 21st. Can we do it? You might get to hear about it! Assuming I actually blog as often as I want to... NO EXCUSES!