How I’m reinventing flavors I can’t quit.

Let’s be real, people. Food should taste good. No brainer, of course, but even when I’m on a calorie budget, I am not about sitting down to a plate of cauliflower. Or giving up everything I love. It may take some cooking gymnastics, but I’ve found ways to keep the flavors I love in my diet. That’s one of the interesting things I’ve learned along the way–those foods I really like crop up unexpectedly. I found out what I missed pretty quickly, but then I worked to adapt. Here are some of the exchanges I’ve made to keep those delicious tastes in my diet.

If you love peanut butter, try peanut powder. Turns out, a few weeks in, that I really, really missed peanut butter. It’s too many calories to justify most days, though (or maybe it was that when I want peanut butter, I want a LOT of peanut butter). To keep the taste but cut the calories, I tried peanut powder, which is simply ground peanuts. I throw it in smoothies all the time, and it gives me the taste when I crave it. There’s nothing like a bagel with peanut butter, but for now, peanut powder does the trick.

If you love flavored creamer, try almond milk. While I’m not a huge fan of syrupy coffee flavoring, I do appreciate a hint of vanilla. By splashing almond milk into my coffee, I gave it some extra flavor and cut the bitterness in the same way milk or half & half does. It’s lower in calories (60 for a whole cup!) and dairy-free. While this isn’t a priority for me now, if I ever needed to go dairy-free, my coffee would be safe. My favorite kind (i.e. the only one I’ve tried so far) is Silk Light Vanilla almond milk.

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If you love pancakes, try cottage cheese pancakes. Sometimes, breakfast just needs to feel indulgent. But regular pancakes aren’t an option when calories are concerned. After discovering that plain old cottage cheese wasn’t happening anymore (my palette no longer says yes to it, I found), I wanted to use it up somehow, since it’s packed with protein. I found this recipe for cottage cheese pancakes and gave it a go, cutting it down by about a third so that I could cook all the batter and eat the whole stack. This made a stack of pancakes (4 medium sized) for about 200 calories, giving me room for syrup (low fat and sugar, of course). Add cinnamon to the batter and you’ve got yourself healthy pancakes. I promise the cottage cheese is just sneaky protein.

If you love burgers, try turkey burgers. Anyone who knows me knows that burgers are held close to my heart. With a Sandwich Slim for a bun, lean ground turkey, and plenty of spices, burgers are possible! I packed the turkey burgers with minced onion, salt, pepper, and even some red pepper flakes for plenty of deliciousness. When they’re piled with great veggie toppings (mine had spinach, onion, mustard, and pickles), it tastes just like a regular burger. (Note: turkey is the secret to low-calorie meat eating, I have found.)

If you love Frosties, try a smoothie. Okay, okay, this is a tough one. While not exactly the same, if I want an ice cream-y dessert, bring in the blender. I’ve thrown in ice, almond milk, half a banana, peanut powder and cocoa powder for a quick, low calorie treat, and it satisfies my sweet tooth. And the variations are endless–add Greek yogurt, too, for extra richness and sweetness. Extra calories left at the end of the day? A tablespoon of mini chocolate chips would add extra decadence.

If you love Mexican food, try Chipotle (seriously). Mexican food is basically a religion in my family, but for now, it falls under the category of “cheat day.” That’s one reason why Chipotle is my favorite place to eat out nowadays–because I can eat what I’d eat even if I weren’t watching my calories. The app I use has verified Chipotle serving sizes and calorie counts, so my burrito bowl’s count (only 515 calories!) should be fairly accurate. I get a bowl with brown rice, black beans, chicken, pico de gallo, Chipotle’s hot salsa, and a pile of lettuce. So, so good and filling.

And, when a substitution just won’t cut it, make your list of things you won’t compromise on (but make room in the calorie budget!). Here’s mine: ranch dressing. Sorry, nope. Turkey Hill Graham Slam ice cream. I will take many walks to earn a half cup (eaten over a very careful half hour) of this glorious creation. Bread. Half sandwiches or Sandwich Slims are my go-to. Road food. I’m not about Subway for a road trip. If I have to eat a tiny amount of Wendy’s, that’s what’s happening. And Diet Coke. Zero calories, probably terrible for me, but too bad. I love it unconditionally.

What substitutions have you found that keep your favorite flavors in your diet? And what can’t you quit? Tell me in the comments!

 

Making food work: 10 things I’ve learned on a calorie budget.

I finally got to see my wedding dress for the first time since January, and it was just as gorgeous as I’d remembered. It fit perfectly, but it’s crunch time, y’all. Time to make sure it continues to fit that way.

I’ve been using a calorie tracker to make sure I’m in line leading up to the wedding. Sadly, that means fewer fun dessert posts. But I still love food, and this journey is teaching me to see it differently. Here’s what I’ve learned along the way so far:

  1. Use an app. I use MyFitnessPal, and it’s super easy to use. It makes it feel like a game, almost, as it tracks my steps and gives me back my calories as I exercise. You can scan barcodes, search for restaurant items, and even log your own recipes. It takes out the guesswork, because guesswork usually means you’re underestimating calories.
  2. Add foods into the app early on in the day. If I know I’ll be having dinner out, I’ll go ahead and add in my Panera meal. That way, I will eat the rest of the day with that meal in mind, guaranteeing I’ll have the calories available for it. Or if I really want to make sure I get to have my peanut butter banana smoothie for dessert, I’ll add that in in the morning.
  3. Find out what’s important to you when you eat. For example, would you rather have a small amount of a food item you love (for me, fries), or a bigger plate of healthy food (that still tastes delicious)? For now, I almost always choose a full plate of low-calorie foods instead of a small amount of high-calorie ones. Mostly because if I’m gonna eat fries, I want all the fries, not just ten or so. True story.

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    And I ate it all.

  4. Olive oil. OH THE CALORIES. Measure it.
  5. Start the day with a walk and earn your breakfast calories back.
  6. Use spices and seasonings. I can’t just add butter anymore, so salt and pepper are lifesavers, in addition to other yummy combinations. Especially on chicken–it’s low calorie, but it doesn’t taste like it when it’s well-seasoned.
  7. Temporarily unfollowing half your Instagram feed is a good idea. I only have so much willpower when I’m scrolling past bakeries and food blogs, people.
  8. Plan ahead. The hardest days have been when I accidentally overeat at lunch and then must have a smaller dinner, or when I can’t have a snack at the end of the day. Plan so that you can eat the way you want to! (And prep ahead. Freeze fruit for smoothies!)

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    Smoothie prep: freeze fruit on a rack, then place in a sealed bag. Smoothies at the ready!

  9. Be creative. Today I made a quesadilla with cheese, chicken, spinach and onions. I wanted something other than a sandwich for lunch, so I made it work. And it was only about 360 calories!
  10. Eat delicious food. Sticking to my calorie budget doesn’t mean I eat spinach all day long (though some days it feels like it). There’s still bread and ranch dressing and chips and salsa and pancakes, just in a moderated way. I’ve found that I can still eat what I love, but a little more healthily. I feel stronger and lighter, and there’s nothing better than feeling powerful in your own skin, am I right? (The only bummer: dessert. There just aren’t any more pies or cookies or crumble toppings or ice cream. We’re on a break.)

How do you stay fit and healthy? Tell me in the comments!

Summer snapshots.

I thought about writing a list of things I’d learned this summer, but, in some ways, three months is too short a time to learn anything. And things we learn tend to become clear much later than during the time period in which we learned them. (So, to that effect, stay tuned!)

But there are always little things that define our moments–things we discovered, what we watched, what we brought into our lives that made them a little more fun. Here are a few of mine from this season.

  1. Fixer Upper. I asked Ben yesterday if he wanted to dress up as Chip and Joanna for Halloween one year, so that pretty much explains it. I love ’em. I love ship lap. I love white kitchens. If I were ever on Fixer Upper, I would be all, “Take me to the most dilapidated house you can find! I am ready to take on a fixer upper!”
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  2. The Bachelorette. Yeah, okay. While I have all sorts of feelings about willingly going on a show in which your girlfriend will be dating 20 guys at once and then complaining about that very thing happening, I watched it. Because it’s ridiculous. But one episode in and I had to know how it ended. And by the end, I just wanted them all to find love.
  3. Snapchat. I can’t get enough of the filters. Favorites: the one with the flower crown, any Olympics-themed (which are, sadly, no more), any food-themed (toast!). Not the scary ones. Yikes.
  4. Audiobooks (read by the author). I listened to Mary Karr’s Lit on the way to Nashville in June and for most of the month living in Indiana. I loved being able to jump into her world anytime I was in the car, hearing a now-familiar voice and story. The story itself was really wonderful, but the last bit of the book knocked me over. I listened to it several times in a row. This book was good in the way that proves that good stories live on in their readers. They’re there, almost literally felt.
  5. I can’t do math. Still texting my friend Brad to work out math problems for me. I’m sure he is still delighted by having this role in my life.
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  6. Following recipes. Y’all, if you can follow a recipe well, you can make anything. I just love that. I keep coming back to that idea for some reason. I think it’s knowing that I don’t have to have practiced making bread for years, for example, to try making bread and end up with a loaf of bread. It may not be perfect, but it’ll be bread.
  7. Rio. OH MY WORD. The Final Five. ALL THE SOBS. I cannot watch people achieve their dreams without getting SUPER INTO IT. Read all the backstories. Watched all the NBC coverage. Stayed up all the hours at night. (Moment that still makes me cry: Aly Raisman’s floor routine where she cries at the end. I just cannot.) And let’s be real, we are all Aly Raisman’s parents when watching the Olympics.
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  8. Kindle for iPhone. This summer my reading did not happen via physical books. As an English major, I feel like I should probably have opinions about that, but I don’t. Downloading Kindle on my phone meant that I had a book in my hand basically constantly. I read two books in a week. That’s a win regardless of the method. (One of them was Gabby Douglas’ memoir but don’t even worry about it. Blame the Olympics.)
  9. Bread-making. So far, I can make pizza dough exactly how it’s supposed to be made, but actual sandwich bread, not so much. It tasted good but did not dome on the top. Hmm. More practice with yeast is in order, because I could not love kneading bread and my hands being covered with flour more.
  10. Bitmoji.
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…enough said.

What made its way into your summer? Let me know in the comments!

I bet you already have the ingredients.

One of my favorite dishes to make in the summer is pasta salad. It instantly makes any summer dinner feel like a picnic or cookout, and the possibilities for combinations are essentially endless. You can use whatever you have in your fridge, along with some staple pantry ingredients (and, in my case, fun pantry finds). Pasta salad also matches with any dinner’s theme–with a couple changes in ingredients, you can serve a Mexican pasta salad, Mediterranean, Italian–it all works.

Last night, I adapted a recipe for an asparagus pasta salad with what I had on hand. Luckily, when I found out we didn’t have tomatoes, I found a little jar of sun-dried tomatoes in the pantry. This, along with jarred pesto and roasted red peppers, is a great pantry ingredient to keep on hand. What I ended up with would’ve been lacking without that salty, rich tomato flavor, not to mention the bright spots of red the sun-dried tomatoes made.

Here’s my recipe for the exact pasta salad I made, but use it as a base or a springboard for your own ideas! Substitute lime juice and Mexican seasonings in the dressing and sub in black beans and peppers for a Mexican pasta salad. Add feta and olives for a Mediterranean salad. Use whatever veggies you have on hand, and I promise–it’ll be delicious.

Asparagus Pasta Salad with Sun-Dried Tomatoes

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Ingredients (which can (and should!) be adjusted to taste)

Dressing

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon olive oil from sun-dried tomato jar
red pepper flakes, to taste
salt & pepper

Salad
1 1/2 cup macaroni pasta
1 pound asparagus
4-5 sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil
1/4 red onion

Directions: Boil pasta according to package directions. When al dente, drain and rinse with cold water to cool. Set aside. Chop asparagus into 1-2 inch pieces and steam until cooked but retaining a bit of snap/bite. Run under cold water to cool. Dice sun-dried tomatoes and red onion. Combine all salad ingredients in a bowl and toss.

To make dressing, combine all ingredients in a mason jar, put the lid on, and shake. (Whisking in a bowl works too, but the shake method is more fun!)

Pour dressing over salad ingredients and toss. Taste for seasonings, and add as necessary. Chill in fridge for about an hour before serving.

For Velveeta, sixth grade, and friendship at the table.

About three weeks ago, a friend of mine passed away. We met in sixth grade and were friends instantly. He lived down the street, so I used to walk to his house, open the door to his huge, jumping, slobbery dog, and then we’d settle in to watch a movie or eat a snack or whatever else we could find to do that day. We always listened to our favorite music. At school, I remember most the long hours we spent agonizing over making our sixth grade graduation slideshow perfect. Middle school brought passing notes folded to tiny squares in the hallway. 10th grade saw us competing to have the best poem explication in the class. After that, we grew apart a bit.

(Nothing like trying to write it down to remind you that, in some ways, our moments with our people can seem like a long string of afternoons, the ones you spend buried on the couch and in conversation, not really doing anything, but accomplishing so much. Those afternoons that turn out to have built you.)

When he passed away, I spoke with friends from my neighborhood I hadn’t spoken to in months (and even years). Our lives carried, at once, a horrible commonality. We circled disbelief, staring it down, trying to come alongside it. This is what they mean when they say that kind of news takes time to sink in. We passed the time remembering our friend. The time we spent together came back as quickly as I lost the friend who filled it.

I don’t know a lot of things. I don’t understand how a friend I knew well could become a stranger as we grew older, how memories I mull over when something I see calls them back cannot be communicated with the person animating them. But I’ve been in the kitchen all summer, and I do know this.

What we eat during those growing-up, life-building moments matters. 

I’ve lost all the actual things my friend and I did when we spent time together. I can’t tell you what we talked about, what we argued about, how we filled our time. But when I remember him, I remember what we ate. Where we ate. What the kitchen was like.

He taught me how to make Rotel dip. We’d sit between a big bag of tortilla chips with our bowl of cheese dip and talk. About nothing, everything–I don’t know. But I do remember how his family always had a stock of cans of Rotel in the cabinet. I remember we’d cut off a block of Velveeta and put it in a saucepan on the stove. I remember mixing in the tomatoes and green chiles. I remember, to the left of the stove, was the microwave, which was where his family kept bread, which I always found a little baffling (and now find delightful).

I remember the day his grandfather was out around town and brought us back Wendy’s for lunch. I remember they had gotten the order wrong, and I remember that meal as the only time I have eaten a triple cheeseburger. I remember it had mayonnaise on it–another error. I remember sitting at their kitchen table, the bread microwave in view, eating with his grandfather. He was quiet, so we were, too. I remember telling my friend that memory when his grandfather died this year. The comfort it brought him, and the comfort it brought me to know my memory had two homes.

I remember catching up with him during a trip home from college. We hadn’t spoken in years. For some reason, we ended up walking around the new Trader Joe’s in Lexington, talking about cookie butter. We picked up a jar to share, took it back to his house, and had some on the back screened-in patio. We talked about how it would make us both fat because it was too good not to eat.

I have a lot of memories of my friend involving music, too–there’s something to be said for songs that play in our minds when remembering a certain person or time of life–but it’s what we ate that brings my friend to me most. Maybe it’s the sensory aspect of it, the textures, smells, and tastes, but it seems like it’s something more than that.

I don’t know how what we eat as we’re becoming ourselves turns into selfhood, but it does. I only know that if my friend and I hadn’t come to the table, I wouldn’t have those memories. I wouldn’t have some form of my friend and our friendship waiting for me anytime I want to pull the right ingredients together.

Sometimes cooking and baking feels tedious–the dinner we have to get on the table, the dessert we have to bring to an event. But I do it because I believe it matters. What we eat forms us and our memories. What we find at the table gives us something to hang onto when those who would usually sit with us are gone.

So when it shocks me that the person I most want to share the little details of who we were when we were little isn’t there to talk, I will return to the kitchen for the parts of us that will always be there. The us that will survive.

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for Cody

What in the world is aquafaba?

My friend Logan (you might remember him from Friendsgiving during #31DaysintheKitchen!) suggested I try to make something using aquafaba, which is, I kid you not, the liquid drained from a can of chickpeas.

Ew?

Turns out, as the Internet and vegans everywhere claim, that this chickpea liquid acts just like egg whites. Stiff peaks and all.

I was skeptical to say the least, but I decided to try making aquafaba meringues. Here we go!

It definitely does not look appetizing in the mixer. Not that egg whites do, I guess, but at least they are not brown.

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Then lots of mixing and adding sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon…

Onto the baking sheet, because, at this point, I was starting to believe this could actually be an egg white replacement. Same consistency and everything!

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They came out crunchy and chewy just like regular meringues! They were very sugary–I did feel like I had to mask some flavor, mostly the saltiness, from the bean juice–but overall, wow.

I decided to use them in an adaption of the Barefoot Contessa’s Eton Mess. I layered crushed meringues with whipped cream, homemade raspberry sauce, and strawberries. Here it is!

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The verdict? Pretty good, and definitely a legitimate egg white substitute. Almost no calories at all, too. I’m not sure I’ll switch completely to aquafaba, but it was certainly an interesting try, and it led to a delicious dessert!

(Here are some more ways to use aquafaba. What unique substitutions have you found and tried lately?)

Macarons, round two.

Remember when I made macarons a while back? It was snowy and my kitchen was tiny but the macarons were perfect?

I upped the ante a bit and decided to try making coffee and Baileys macarons, which included making my own filling. For the first ones, I’d used regular store-bought icing. Not French, but delicious. And a shortcut because a making such a detailed, precise recipe takes it right out of me.

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These weren’t perfect (except for one!), but they were delicious, and they still reminded me of Chamonix with their crunchy and squishy cookies and rich filling. (Are macarons not the most beautiful things you’ve ever seen?)

I took a few photos, but mostly I told this story through Snapchat. Essentially, I am trying to be the Pioneer Woman. No shame. Follow along here!