Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Skin healthy, footloose and fancy-free...that's me!

I spent a long time avoiding a trip to the dermatologist for a much-needed skin checkup. I figured that after spending several summers lifeguarding at beaches and outdoor pools to help pay for my college tuition - as well as almost three years of tanning regularly while living in South Florida - my skin was a mess of cancer cells just waiting to be diagnosed. By the way, I HEART the beach. I could easily spend every waking moment of my life parked on the sand, book in hand, listening to the waves crash. Sadly, as much as I love my friends in Florida, the ocean is probably what I miss the most about the Sunshine State.
Anyway, although I've often rocked a golden tan over the years, I still know the sun and surf doesn't always like my skin so much. There have, of course, been the occasional bouts of sun burn and subsequent peeling over the years, as well as the appearance of various new moles and freckles.
So imagine my excitement when, after finally forcing myself to see a dermatologist, I was given the all-clear. No skin cancer!!! YAY!
Yes, I know that doesn't mean I should run out tomorrow and bake in the sun for hours without any type of UV protection. But it does mean that I made it through my 20s without completely destroying my skin. By the way, for all you young 'uns, dermatologists believe that how we treat our skin in our 20s impacts how our skin ages. By the 30s, small lines and wrinkles begin to show on the face and the repercussions of all those years of tanning finally start to show up. More sun exposure means more wrinkles. Eek.

So I have a few tips for all you sun-bunnies. First, always wear sunscreen. But look for waterproof products that protect against both UVA and UVB rays. According to the experts, many sunscreens just don't adequately do the job.
Also keep an eye on moles and dark spots. They could be signs of developing cancer lesions.
At the same time, in addition to regular exercise and drinking plenty of water, there are several dietary steps you can take to boost skin health. This includes eating a variety of nutrient-rich foods.

Need some examples?

* Carrots are a good source of beta-carotene and Vitamin C, which helps prevent the premature aging of skin and aids in skin collagen formation.

* Sweet potatoes also contain beta-carotene and Vitamin C, in addition to Vitamin E. Foods with high quantities of vitamins C and E are effective antioxidants for skin protection.

* Berries such as blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, cranberries and strawberries are also good for the skin since they are loaded with antioxidant compounds able to neutralize damaging free radicals (that lead to skin cell damage and premature skin aging) generated in the skin by excessive UV exposure.

* Pomegranate juice contains anthocyanins that act to strengthen the walls of the tiny blood vessels that supply nutrients to the skin. This means drinking pomegranate juice can help stop the formation of spider veins.

Now that I've thrown all that out there, here are a few sucralose-sweetened, low-calorie recipes packed with some of these complexion-boosting ingredients. Here's to a happy and healthy glow!

Berrilicious Salsa

Copper Penny Salad

Pomegranate Julep

Sweet Potato Pound Cake

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Never too full for ice cream

So, I attended a work function last week - and after two days of eating everything in sight thanks to an array of high-calorie breakfast, lunch and dinner offerings, I was basically walking around so full I could barely breathe, wishing desperately I'd brought along pants with an elastic waistband. And yet despite my bloated belly, the organizers went and opened up a sundae buffet at the very end of the event. How does one possibly turn down a sundae bar? I tried...I really, really tried not to go anywhere near it. But it's siren call was too strong for me...I was weak. Still, I only took one scoop of ice cream - and tried to limit the hot fudge, strawberry and caramel toppings to a mere drizzle. So I feel I did triumph just a wee bit.
Anyway, you'd think after that frozen treat that I wouldn't be so tempted to celebrate National Hot Fudge Sunday Day tomorrow. But if you know me at all by now, you know I love to honor the food holidays. So I just may have to indulge the tiniest bit.
Luckily, there are so many low-fat, sugar-free sundae variations now available, I no longer have to worry about eating a day's worth of calories in one sitting.
Here are a few examples:

CARAMEL APPLE ENCHILADA SUNDAE

DOUBLE WHIP COOKIES AND CREAM CUP

CRUNCHY APPLE PIE SUNDAE

Finally, if you're completely lazy in the kitchen (like I often am), I've discovered that the SmartOnes Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Sundae (found in the frozen meal area of your local grocery store) is absolutely delicious and low in calories. Apparently many others agree, since Women's Health Magazine chose it the winner of the Best Ice Cream Sundae (for packaged foods) in 2007.

That's all I got for now so...enjoy!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Thank you for being a friend

Sophia: Let me tell you girls the three most important things I learned about life: number one, hold fast to your friends; number two, there's no such thing as security; and number three, don't go see "Ishtar." Woof.

In case you hadn't heard, Estelle Getty, aka Sophia "Ma" Petrillo from The Golden Girls passed away today. I can't help but feel a little bit like I lost a friend or family member. Like The Cosby Show and Family Ties, The Golden Girls was one program I tuned into religiously, season after season. There was just something so comforting and endearing about watching such a close-knit group of women live, love, cry and laugh together while sharing a house in Miami.
While I certainly had a soft spot for the scatter-brained Rose and man-hungry Blanche, I particularly adored Sophia, the feisty, acid-tongued mother of Dorothy - the show's main protagonist. She always reminded me a bit of my own grandmother, who was quite the queen of sarcasm herself. (And folks wonder where my snarky side comes from.) Also, despite the fact that The Golden Girls was a comedy, I think the show sensitively tackled controversial topics - including homosexuality, interracial marriage, menopause, suicide and HIV - that really weren't discussed much in that era. Perhaps that's why it continues to have such a devoted fan base.
Anyhow, I wanted to dedicate some sweet recipes to my favorite golden girls. For those that forgot, each episode typically featured a scene where the gals gathered in the kitchen to discuss a particular issue, often over a plate of cheesecake. So here are two low-calorie, sucralose-sweetened dessert recipes - one even featuring an Italian-theme to honor Sophia's proud Sicilian roots.

Italian Cream Pie with Strawberry Sauce

Marvelous Mocha Cheesecake


I'm also including a video clip that shows just why Estelle Getty was so amazing. We'll miss ya, Sophe!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Mojito Madness...

This entry will be short and sweet today - but I promise to make up for it next week. Just wanted to say that I had the most dee-lish mojito at dinner last night. But instead of mint, they used basil. It was wondrous. Unfortunately, I couldn't pull a recipe out of them. But I'm guessing it goes something like this:

Basil Mojito
1.5 oz white rum (like Bacardi)
10 fresh basil leaves
1/2 lime
7 oz club soda
2 tbsp. simple syrup (or two packets of sucralose-based sweetener)

Also, on the mojito front, I noticed that Splenda.com has a recipe for a Mango Mojito Pie. Um, yes, I WILL be trying that one out soon.

If you beat me to the punch, let me know the pie's level of yumminess, on a one to ten scale!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

No matter how hard you try, you can't make me sing...

Okay, so I have a multi-day work event coming up later this week and the rumor is, we have to do karaoke one of the evenings. And, unfortunately, this will not be a situation where we can slip unnoticed into the bathroom (or under the table) when it comes time to volunteer. I'm hearing they will actually be calling each of us up to the front to perform.
Eeek!
Here's the deal: I don't mind hitting up the occasional karaoke bar with a group of buddies, an outing that typically follows the consumption of a few cocktails. I actually once brought down the house with a rockin' version of Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made for Walkin" - performed, of course, before Jessica Simpson butchered the song with a lame, soul-sucking cover version that somehow still managed to get play on major radio stations...moving on. HOWEVER, I do mind climbing up on a stage and belting out a tune - stone-cold sober - in front of a large group of managers and work colleagues.
So what should I perform - if I'm forced to perform - that's work-appropriate and will entertain people of varying ages and musical interests?
According to this Entertainment Weekly list, songs like Pat Benatar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" and "Uptown Girl" by Billy Joel are consistent karaoke crowd pleasers while Don McLean's sprawling "American Pie" and anything from the "Grease" soundtrack are sure to irritate your audience. However, I don't agree with all of the list's choices. After all, they did give a thumbs-up to a Backstreet Boys song. A boy band?? For serious?
Anyhoos, I'm considering the forever-awesome "What's Up" by 4 Non Blondes or maybe some Tom Petty, Black Crowes, Jefferson Airplane or Sublime. Let me reiterate that these would only be sung under extreme duress, as in I'd be dragged up to the stage, kicking and screaming.
Couple random karaoke tidbits for you, courtesy of Wikipedia.
* Finland holds the record for the largest number of people singing karaoke at one time, with 80,000 people singing "Hard Rock Hallelujah" on May 26, 2006 in Helsinki.
* China holds the record - achieved back on Jan. 1 of this year - for the longest non-stop rally of karaoke; a whopping 214 hours, 20 minutes, and eight seconds.

Also, since I know y'all are jonesing for some recipes, I'm including a few smoothie ideas here to keep you cool on these hot days.

Berry Smoothie

Mango Yogurt Smoothie

Peach Melba Smoothie

So, gang, any other karaoke song ideas? Any blog entry or recipe tips?

Either way, if I do wind up on stage, I figure I can't possibly be as bad as this group. Talk about making ears bleed. Yowza.

Friday, July 11, 2008

You say pea-can, I say puh-cahn...

Harry: Repeat after me. Pepper.
Sally: Pepper.
Harry: Pepper.
Sally: Pepper.
Harry: Waiter, there is too much pepper on my paprikash.
Sally: Waiter, there is too much pepper on my paprikash.
Harry: But I would be proud to partake of your pecan pie.
—Billy Crystal & Meg Ryan, When Harry Met Sally

Growing up with Southern parents in the North, there were always a few words and phrases we all said that would make my Midwest friends snicker...and of course, the reverse was true when we'd head down South and relatives would poke fun at our "Yankee" accents. One such word was pecan - seems to be pronounced differently depending on the area of the country.

Anyhoo, no matter how you say it, tomorrow is National Pecan Pie Day. Good lawd, do I love me some pecan pie - particularly during the holidays and whenever the Kentucky Derby rolls around. But it's not like I need any more sweets after all of the recent food-centric weekends! Good thing I've been hitting the gym like a maniac or else these pants would certainly be fitting a bit tighter. Either way, because it's National Pecan Pie Day - and because I have a gal pal coming in town this weekend who just happens to love that particular dessert - I will be making a sucralose-sweetened variation of my mom's famous chocolate pecan pie.

Check it out!

Black Bottom Pecan Pie

Here's a non-chocolate version for all you traditionalists out there.

Sweet Southern Pecan Pie

And finally, because I kicked this entry off with a quote from the fabulous "When Harry Met Sally," I thought it would only be fair to end the recap with some more movie excellence. Check out this fabulous movie trailer mashup/spoof from YouTube. It certainly flips the movie's actual plot on it's head! Say hello to Stalker Harry!

Happy Friday gang.


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Dancing King

I haven't decided if I adore Matt Harding or resent him. On the one hand, his videos put a ginormous smile on my face every single viewing. But on the flip side, I'm insanely jealous that this self-proclaimed slacker with a bad running man dance is living out my fantasy: traveling the world and getting paid to do it.
So who is Matt Harding, you may ask? Well, he's a 31-year-old Connecticut-born Internet celeb known for a series of videos that feature him goofily dancing in locations across the globe. Apparently it began a few years ago during a trip to Vietnam, when a friend suggested Matt should exhibit his, um, unique dancing skills in each country he visited. He uploaded the resulting video to his Web site for family and friends - but it continued to get passed around via e-mail - eventually becoming a viral phenomenon.
The Stride chewing gum folks caught wind of this and sponsored a second video. During the filming, several Rwandan children came out and danced with Matt, sparking the idea for the third video, also sponsored by Stride. That video - which involved 14 months of travel to 42 countries - was released about two weeks ago and has already racked up nearly 5 million views on YouTube alone.
So why on earth is this video so endearing? Well, it's hard not to grin when you see Matt happily flailing his arms and legs about in 69 different locations on every continent. From a hill in Bhutan to a village in Zambia, a rock formation in Northern Ireland to a tulip field in the Netherlands, he high-steps his way across the world - often joined by crowds of locals trying to mimic his free-spirited dancing style. For example, in the Solomon Islands, a large group of children joyously dance around him, while in Papua New Guinea, several tribesmen bob up and down in accompaniment. And there is something so uplifting and infectious about watching people of all ages, colors and nationalities, dancing with complete abandon together. It's a silly - yet important - reminder that we are all more alike than we think. Or as one YouTube commenter suggested: "As long as people can dance, there's joy. And so long as there's joy, there's hope. And if hope doesn't make you happy, I don't think you can truly claim to be alive."

Here's hoping this puts a smile on your face this Tuesday. I'll be back later this week with sugar-free recipes and tips.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Recipe for a Low Calorie Independence Day!

So who is looking forward to a long, hopefully sunny three-day weekend? (Raises both hands high in the air!) MEEEEE! Happy Fourth, y'all! I know it's tough to keep things healthy when surrounded by so much delicious-looking, high-fat food...but there are ways to attend that barbecue and NOT dive into the closest plate of brownies.

Here are a few tips to help control your food intake over the holiday weekend:

* Don't show up hungry. Take time to eat a light, healthy snack before chowing down.
* When fixing your plate, make sure the bulk of it is fruits and veggies, such as salad, baked beans, corn, watermelon and grapes. That way you can fill up your belly faster with healthier items.
* Eating smaller portions is key. Yes, you can indulge in some mayo-licious potato salad and that scrumptious looking slice of cake. But don't pile a mountain of it on your plate or eat half a pie in one sitting.
* If you're heading to a BBQ at a friend or relative's house, bring some low-calorie snack options such as a fruit salad or raw veggies and hummus.
* Avoid adding lots of butter, salt and fatty dressings.
* Try not to get seconds until a few hours after you've eaten the first plate.
* Always eat dessert last.
* Drink lots of water. It will help fill you up.

Remember, you can always bring along your own cooler with healthier food options - or serve as a second chef and whip up some low-cal favorites for the masses. Here are some items I'm going to ATTEMPT to make this weekend. It all depends on how ambitious I'm feeling in the kitchen tonight.

Cucumber, Tomato and Red Onion Salad

Panang Curry Barbecue Chicken

Fresh Mango Sorbet

Either way, have a happy and healthy Fourth of July weekend!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

That deserves a triple snap...ginger snap, that is!


I've been a fan of Trader Joe's grocery stores for years. Not only do they have lots of yummy entrees and good, fresh produce, but I've thrown many a party that featured various TJ-brand apps and bottles of "Two Buck Chuck." One of my favorite Trader Joe's items is the uber-deelish Triple Ginger Snap Cookies. I always seem to have a tub of those bad boys lying around. They're especially yummy with a cup of hot herbal tea.

So where am I going with this story? Well, today would be National Gingersnap Day! According to the ever-reliable Wikipedia, gingersnaps are biscuit/cookies flavored with ginger, anise and other spices that date back to the Middle Ages. Oh, and apparently "Ginger Snaps" is also the name of a cultish "Canadian werewolf film" from 2000. Who knew?

Anyhow, for all my low-cal buddies out there, I'm attaching a sucralose-sweetened ginger snap recipe for y'all to try out tonight. I've also included a tasty ginger-pear lemonade recipe ideal for these hot, muggy days.

Don't worry kids. I'll be back later this week with several Fourth of July recipes that are easy on the waistline.

Ginger Snaps

Pear-Ginger Lemonade

More low calorie recipes here.