Friday, March 28, 2008

Hanging out on Avenue Q

My more loyal readers probably already know about my long-standing adoration of Sesame Street and the Muppets. Needless to say, I've been jonesing to see Avenue Q - the Broadway show starring puppets - since I first heard about it several years ago. I finally got my opportunity last night, when the production came to the Fox Theatre in Atlanta. Holy hilarity, Batman. We literally laughed so hard, we cried. It was fabulous!
For those of you in the dark, Avenue Q is the story of a group of 20 and 30-somethings living in a New York City neighborhood and their struggle to find jobs, dates and a purpose in life. It centers around bright-eyed kindergarten teaching assistant Kate Monster and her romantic interest Princeton, a newcomer with big dreams and a tiny bank account. Other characters include struggling comedian Brian and his fiancee, Christmas Eve, a therapist unable to find patients; slacker Nicky and his uptight roommate Rod, a Republican investment banker with a secret; an Internet addict called Trekkie Monster and a building superintendent named Gary Coleman, who just happens to be a former child actor. Ya huh. The show is an homage to Sesame Street, but with an emphasis on adult issues.
Although the material is couched in comedy, I think the show rings true with many grownups - especially those in my age bracket. My group of friends certainly related. With songs like "What Do You Do with a B.A. in English?" and "I Wish I Could Go Back to College," it's almost as if the writers were listening into some of our recent conversations...in my case, just replace the English BA with a Journalism degree. Hee.
Anyhoo, should the utterly irreverant and hi-LAR-ious Avenue Q be playing in your neighborhood in the not-so-distant future, I strongly encourage you to attend.
Although I'd love to attach some AQ clips here, the content isn't really appropriate for this blog. So instead of Trekkie, I thought I'd include a song featuring Cookie Monster, the character he is modeled after.
I'm also including this sucralose-sweetened sugar cookie recipe to honor my favorite monster, as well as a Long Island Iced Tea recipe in honor of a certain scene from Avenue Q.

Happy Friday, gang!

Long Island Iced Tea
1/3 oz vodka
1/3 oz rum
1/3 oz gin
1/3 oz tequila
3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
2 packets Splenda
2 Tbsp water
diet cola
fresh slice lemon
tall glass of ice
* Dissolve Splenda in water. Add mixture to cocktail shaker, along with all liquors and lemon juice. Shake well. Pour into tall cocktail glass filled with ice, add diet cola until filled. Garnish with fresh slice of lemon.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Why time begins on opening day…

"Well, at least the Chicago Cubs are trying. They installed a new pitching machine the other day. Unfortunately it beat them 4-1."
Ahhhh, spring. The time of year when the weather finally starts to warm up, the pollen situation spirals out of control and the flowers begin to unfurl. And two of the best sports traditions in the history of sports take place...Can you say March Madness and OPENING DAY, BABY?!!
In my little corner of the sports world, the past few days have been pretty dang good. For one, my beloved Wisconsin Badgers are in the Sweet Sixteen...and I can already taste the Final Four (take that Davidson!). Second, the Cubs have actually won their last few games. Okay, okay...so Opening Day at Wrigley Field is actually Monday. And yes, the recent wins I referred to have all been related to spring training. But we're talking about the Lovable Losers. I'll take whatever victories I can get!
A couple years ago, when I called South Florida home, I was fortunate to live within walking distance of the facility where the Marlins and the Cardinals did their spring training. We spent many a fabulous - and cheap! - March afternoon sitting in the sunshine, watching some of the best teams in the MLB play. Keep in mind, many of my friends will actually plan vacations around spring training, replacing trips to the Caribbean or Europe with outings to Arizona or Florida - so my close proximity to such a stadium was the focal point of great envy. Oh, those were the good ole days.
Anyhoo, for those unable to comprehend the importance of Opening Day, it's a chance to forget the previous losing season - or in the case of the Cubs, the last century - in the hopes that this year will be THE year. I once called in sick to work to attend Opening Day at Wrigley Field, only to be caught "Ferris Bueller" style on TV, sitting in the bleacher section with friends. And you know what? I'd do it again! (Sidenote to Sam Zell...Don't you DARE sell the naming rights to Wrigley. There will be riots in the streets of Chicago if you do!)
But, as usual, I digress.
While I will attend my share of Braves games now that I'm in Atlanta - and I certainly plan to make it back to Wrigley Field for at least one or two games this year - I also expect to watch many a ball game from the friendly confines of my apartment. And in those cases, rather than chowing down on either a fully loaded hot dog, breaded chicken tenders, nachos, salty peanuts and ice cream (or any variation of the above), I'll be trying to stick to a healthier menu.

So here are a few sugar-free recipes designed to capture the feel of the typical ballpark diet without striking out on the calories.

Five Pepper Salsa
Spicy Texas Pecans
Lemon Chicken Strips
Fresh Mango Sorbet

Finally, to end things on the ultimate high note, here is a more than 20-year-old clip of infamous "Cub Fan, Bud Man" - aka Mr. Harry Caray - singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." Alright! Lemme hear ya! Ah-One! Ah-Two! Ah-Three!

Friday, March 21, 2008

With visions of Cadbury Creme Eggs dancing in my head...

Happy almost Easter! If you're anything like me, you may be tempted to dive into a basket of Cadbury Crème eggs and assorted chocolates this weekend. However, seeing as how one egg is nearly 172 calories, that's probably not the best idea.

So I figured I'd pass along a couple tidbits for all you health nuts out there.

For starters, Carrot Cake always makes a yummy Easter weekend treat. And when you make it with Splenda like in this receipe, it goes down even better!

And, of course, don't forget about the perennial Easter fave known as marshmallow peeps. After all, nothing says Easter like peeps jousting. And now there are sugar-free peeps out there for all you calorie-counters.

Hope y'all have a fabulous weekend.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Top o' the evening to ya!

May your glass be ever full. May the roof over your head be always strong. And may you be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows you're dead. Irish Toast

Happy St. Patty's Day! I know, bummer it's on a Monday this year...but hey, any excuse to grab a pint of Guiness - regardless of the day of the week - is fine by me. Growing up in Chicago, St. Pat's was right up there with the Fourth of July when it came to citywide celebrations. We're talking parades on both the North side and South side of the city - drawing hundreds of thousands of people apiece - along with the dying of the river and all sorts of other crazy traditions. According to many of my native Irish friends, Americans celebrate St. Patrick's Day even more than the Irish do...and let me tell ya, having worked in a popular Irish bar on St. Patrick's Day in Chicago, I don't doubt that at all. It's sheer insanity!
This past weekend, I went to a party at a friend's house and it was all sorts of awesome. All of the food was green - celery, edamame, guacamole, green grapes, green M&Ms, green cupcakes - along with Irish beer (DUH!), green Jello shots and martinis and a fabulous boozy beverage made with mint chocolate chip ice cream. Wowza. I was impressed. While I'm not nearly motivated enough to put together that kind of an array, I did want to give all of you faithful readers a few Irish food and drink recipes should you decide to honor old St. Patrick tonight.

Irish Coffee
2/3 cup freshly brewed coffee
1/3 cup Irish whiskey
2 tsp Splenda brown sugar blend
Top with whipped cream

Irish Eyes
1 oz. Irish whiskey
1/4 oz. green creme de menthe
2 oz. heavy cream
Shake well with ice. Strain into chilled cocktail glass and top with cherry.

Nutty Irishman
1/2 shot Irish cream liqueur
1/2 shot Frangelico

Pistachio Cake

I also suggest getting some Dreyer's Slow Churned Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream made with sucralose. It's dee-lish!

Finally, for any of you who grew up watching classic Disney flicks, here's a blast from the past. Does Darby O'Gill and the Little People ring any bells? I HEART this movie. After all, it features a very young - very handsome - Sean Connery. Hoorah!

Everyone have a fabulous - and safe - night.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Who knew?


And here I thought all my parties this weekend would involve embracing my Irish roots. A buddy just passed along an e-mail letting me know that today is Pi Day. Nope, I didn't forget the e...For those who (like me) are completely unfamiliar with this holiday, apparently it was born 20 years ago at San Francisco's Exploratorium and it celebrates the mathematical constant known as pi. Today, you see, is March 14 - or 3/14. And pi roughly equals 3.14...ad infinitum. Get it? Anyhoo, today also happens to be math genius Albert Einstein's birthday, so I guess it was meant to be.
Here's some more information on the holiday, as well as its creator, a physicist named Larry Shaw.

"Pi represents the relationship between one dimension to another in the sense of the linear dimension and the plane; or the relation of the linear dimension and the sphere. Pi is key to these relationships. So for Shaw, Pi was in the air and definitely on his mind. He and his colleagues were talking about a Pi Shrine or a Pi Day, something to make the concept of rotation noteworthy. And so it all came together. For the first Pi Day, they installed a Pi Shrine (a small brass plate engraved with pi to a hundred digits) at the exact center of a circular Exploratorium classroom, a spot that also corresponds to the center-line of the museum's building. And they walked around the shrine because as Shaw notes, "People go around things to show respect to them in many cultures and religions." And they ate pie. It wasn't until 1989 at the 3rd Pi Day, that the overlap with Einstein's birthday was uncovered by Shaw's 14-year-old daughter Sara, who is, today, a veterinarian. She was writing a report on Einstein and told her dad that his Pi Day -- 3/14 -- was also Einstein's birthday. Voila. With all that mathematical kismet going for it, Pi Day gradually took on an international life of its own."

What I find most entertaining is all the pi-related rituals that appear to accompany this holiday. Participants sing Pi Day songs, bead a "pi string" and circumnaviate a pi shrine? Even better, though, it appears they eat pie...And that's certainly something I can appreciate. So in honor of pi - and Albert Einstein - I'm going to enjoy some sugar-free lemon chiffon pie tonight, thanks to this fab new recipe from www.Splenda.com!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Dining out without pigging out...foods that are healthy

Well, I believe the spring weather is about to spring forth. Not only have I been able to ditch my jacket at home the past few days, I actually saw the first batch of flowers blooming this morning when I walked into the office. Just as a sidenote: I hated spring when I lived in the Midwest...probably because there really was no such season there. It could easily snow on a mid-April afternoon in Chicago. But in Atlanta, the weather is gorgeous by late March and the only thing you need to worry about is that pesky pollen problem.

Still, while I'm enjoying the warmer temperature, spring is typically an annual wake-up call - one reminding me to get back into shape before I have to start busting out the skimpy clothing again. So I'll be ramping up my workout efforts in upcoming days to prepare for the impending swimsuit season. At the same time, I've got a few St. Patty's Day parties looming, along with a never-ending stream of birthday dinners. So what's a girl got to do to stay in shape and eat healthy foods while maintaining an active social life? Here are a few dining-related tips that don't involve steering clear of restaurants altogether.

1. Avoid buffets. While economical, buffets make it too easy to load up the plate with an array of high-carb, high-calorie and high-fat foods.

2. Step away from the bread basket. If you'd like a roll, grab one then move it outside of your reaching distance. The same goes for chips, should you be at a Mexican restaurant. Grab a small handful than stay away from it the rest of the night.

3. Meal modifications are key. Feel free to make special requests. Ask the waiter if they can put the sauce on the side - or to substitute french fries with veggies. Find out if your meal can be made without butter, oil or salt...anything that could help cut down on calories.

4. Start out healthy. Consider ordering a light salad or soup to kick things off. This will help to fill you up before you dive into the big meal. You also might want to split your entree with a friend.

5. Practice portion control. Remember that restaurant sizes are often larger than normal. Consider eating half of your meal and putting the rest in a doggie bag.

6. Avoid all the bells and whistles. Don't add a bunch of extras to your meal. When it comes to a salad, avoid topping it off with buttery croutons, grated cheese, bacon and dollops of high-fat dressing. The same goes with a burger, baked potato and other entrees.

7. Don't binge drink at the dinner table. A glass or wine or two with your meal is one thing. But don't knock back a six-pack of beer or a few bottles of wine single-handedly. It's not good for you - and in more ways than just calories.

One more thing to digest...(Hee. See what I just did there? See?? Whatever. This is a tough crowd.)If you'd like to try your own hand at making a high-class restaurant-style meal, check out this dee-lish low calorie recipe from Splenda.com.

Kevin Rathbun's Panang Curry Barbecue Chicken With Lemon Grass

Friday, March 07, 2008

Calling all hot cereal fans...

Breakfast has always been one of my favorite meals. Some people avoid it...I can't get through the day without it. From scrambled egg whites and toast to yogurt with granola, I just HAVE to eat some sort of morning meal to function. That's why today is such a great day. Rejoice, breakfast fans, because it's National Cereal Day. And as far as I'm concerned, you can snarf down cereal anytime of the day - whether it's morning, noon or night.

Lately, in particular, I've been all about the oatmeal. There's just something so satisfying about it. Plus, it doesn't hurt knowing that studies show daily consumption of oatmeal can lower blood cholesterol. When I have the time, I make the steel-cut version. Most days, unfortunately, I seem to be rushing out the door, and that's when my single-serving packets of the instant variety come in handy.

Anyhoo, I've been trying to regularly switch up my oatmeal styles, so as not to get bored with it. From bananas to brown sugar to peaches and cream, toppings truly do make a difference. So for those of you who think oatmeal is boring, I'm attaching two yummy looking recipes - the first from Splenda.com and the second from Hungry Girl - to check out.

Oatmeal with Blueberries & Cream

Guilt-free Oatmeal

I'm also including a link to this old-school Quaker Oatmeal commercial that brings back memories. While I still often associate that brand with an old Wilford Brumley talking about how it's the "right thing to do and the tasty way to do it," I was about Timmy's age when this particular commercial came out, so discovering it on YouTube was pretty funny. Only question is, will it make a hot cereal lover out of you?!!!

Monday, March 03, 2008

Kicking some serious ciggy butt


So I have to admit, I'm kind of proud of myself. I've now been officially smoke-free - as in, not even a drag from a friend's cigarette some drunken evening - for the past six months. I know, I know...stupid me for ever lighting up in the first place, but we all have our flaws. And despite the damage I probably did to my lungs over those years of smoking, I'm happy I finally was able to kick the habit...particularly since so many of my friends still light up when we hit the local pub.

Believe me, this was not an easy habit to break. I spent ages talking about quitting but never truly committing to the idea. But two things happened last year that changed that mindset. I turned 30...and I lost my grandmother to cancer. I had always said I didn't want to smoke past my 20s - that my third decade of life was the time to really get serious about my long-term health. But more important than that was watching my grandmother gasp her last breath, years after she quit smoking and only weeks after her diagnosis. It was a pretty painful wakeup call. I suppose if there was any silver lining, it was that it provided the motivation to change my behavior for good.

So here's the deal. I'm not one to get on a soapbox and preach. Even chain smokers know cigarettes are bad news and can cause lung cancer, emphysema and heart disease, blah blah blah...so I'm not here to lecture anyone or scream about the impact of second-hand smoking. I'm merely going to share my own experience and hope it helps motivate someone else out there to do the same.

This is going to sound ridiculous, but honestly, the key to quitting is to truly embrace the concept. You can't half-arse it, so to speak. Invest in some smoking cessation products, such as the nicotine patch or the gum or get the prescribed medicine, if you have to. Either way, picture your life without cigarettes, wake up one morning and never look back. While some people may have found success weaning back to a lesser amount, I suggest going cold turkey. For me, I got the patch as a backup but only used it the first few times I went out drinking with friends. In addition, for the first month, I had to bail on a lot of Happy Hour get-togethers and other booze-fueled events, knowing that the more I drank, the more likely I was to crave a smoke. Fortunately, within two weeks, I no longer missed the "stress break" cigarette or the "stuck in traffic" fix. And within two months, I no longer missed the bar-related smoking jag. And now, I've actually gotten to the point where I can't stand the stale, ashtray smell in a smoky bar anymore (YAY!!!)

One other side note, I did indeed gain some weight after quitting - most of which I have since dropped through regular exercise and healthy eating. So don't use that as your excuse to keep buying packs!

Anyhoo, I'm going to end with a few more compelling reasons to help keep you on the non-smoking bandwagon, once you've made the decision. Read this article for more detail on other potential smoking-related side effects, which include:


1. Speeds up mental decline
2. Raises risk of autoimmune disease
3. Doubles the risk of SIDS
4. Raises risk of age-related macular degeneration
5. Increases risk of rheumatoid arthritis
6. Causes acid reflux
7. Leads to breast cancer