Wednesday, August 27, 2008

You're such a peach!

True story: When I first arrived in Atlanta about two years ago for a job interview, I was staying in a hotel in the northern portion of the city. I had made dinner plans with some relatives up in Woodstock, Georgia, who were driving down to pick me up and show me around town. But then they got lost. Apparently, it doesn't help telling someone you're staying along Peachtree Street near Route 400. There are just too many possibilities. So what should have been a relatively short commute took hours, as my poor cousins drove from hotel to hotel on one Peachtree Street to the next. On the other hand, the situation certainly generated a lot of laughter among hotel employees who told me that was my first "lesson learned" about driving in Atlanta.

For those that have never visited the ATL, there are about eight billion streets with Peachtree in the title. Okay, okay...I'm exaggerating. There are more like 70 streets in Atlanta with a Peachtree variation. For starters, we have Peachtree Street and West Peachtree Street, which run parallel to each other and only a block apart. And then there is Peachtree Battle Avenue, Peachtree-Dunwoody Road, Old Peachtree Road, Peachtree Way, Peachtree Creek Road, Peachtree Lane, Peachtree Avenue, Peachtree Circle, Peachtree Drive, Peachtree Plaza, Peachtree Way, Peachtree Memorial Drive, New Peachtree Road, Peachtree Walk and Peachtree Valley Road. WHEW! And that's just off the top of my head. And yes, several of those streets DO intersect. Good times, I tell ya.

So what's the deal with all the dang peaches?

According to the always-trustworthy Wikipedia, Atlanta grew up on a site occupied by the Creek people, and the "peachtree" street was, in fact, not named for a peach tree, but for a large Creek settlement called Standing Pitch Tree after a tall lone tree. Reportedly, the Creek used trees with fresh pitch (the sap of a pine tree) for vows and treaties. The "pitch tree" was eventually transformed into "peach tree", either through error or simply because it sounded better to English speakers. So while peaches are commonly grown in northern Georgia and the Atlanta area, and although Georgia is the "Peach State," there was apparently no historical peach tree that led to the name.

Anyway, since I now live in the land of peaches, I suppose it's only fitting I celebrate National Peach Month before it ends in a couple days. That's right, folks, if you want to properly honor "the peach," whip up a tasty peach custard, pie or smoothie before Labor Day arrives. And because I'm such a peach, here are a few sucralose-sweetened, low-calorie tasty treats to help you honor Atlanta's favorite fruit. I say, take the Allman Brothers Band's advice and "eat a peach" this weekend.

Raspberry Peach Cobbler

Peach Flavored Green Tea Punch

Peach Frozen Yogurt

Friday, August 22, 2008

I no longer want my MTV!

Shame on you, MTV! I've been disenchanted with you for quite awhile, but this is the nail in the coffin, so to speak.
But let's back up a bit and talk about when the relationship first began to sour. For me, it was probably when you went and basically got rid of all the music videos, which is an interesting choice for a station with MUSIC in it's title.
And then you took The Real World, which was once a somewhat relevant show about the interactions of seven strangers from completely different backgrounds, (anyone remember Pedro from the San Francisco season?) and turned it into a giant hot tub party starring a bunch of dim-witted, self-obsessed kids.
As if that wasn't bad enough, you then forced those Hills nimrods onto the general public. Why is it that I have never seen more than five minutes of the show - and rarely read the gossip rags - and yet I know all about Heidi and Spencer? I don't care!! WHY ARE THEY ALWAYS IN MY FACE!!!
But why am I now cutting you, MTV, out of my life for good? Because of a potential steaming pile of a show called "Model Maker." According to MTV's Web site, they're currently in search of girls pining for the chance to strut down the runway. The catch is, they have to be willing to shed anywhere from 30 to 80 pounds in a three month timeframe. SAY WHAT? Eighty pounds in three months? How is that healthy? And what kind of message is that sending to an already weight-obsessed generation of young women?
Look, we all know there's an obesity crisis. And for health reasons, many people need to lose weight. However, a healthy weight loss takes time and energy - it's not something that can or should be accomplished overnight.
And thanks to a society and media that bashes any female over a size four, while simultaneously glamourizing actresses and models sporting skeletal proportions, I'm sure this show will only help reinforce all those existing bad body images and promote a completely unhealthy diet among our youth.

So thanks MTV for helping teenage women learn to appreciate their own bodies, love handles and all. Let's hear it for eating disorders. Bravo!

WHEW! Now that I've finished my rant (yes, thank you, that soapbox is mighty tall these days), here are two German-influenced, sugar-free dishes for the weekend - inspired by the German Bierfest I will be attending in Atlanta tomorrow.

Have a good one!

German Apple Pancakes

Hot German Potato Salad

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Pump pain is no gas...

Is anyone else tired of blowing major bucks every time they fuel up the car? And if folks from Europe are reading this, YES, I KNOW! You pay ten times more than we do. But I'm an American - we kvetch constantly.
What's that you say? Gas prices are finally going down? Bah! It's still too high. To put things into perspective, this time last year, the average price of unleaded in Atlanta was about $2.664. Today, it's $3.608. Woof-dee.
Either way, I'm tired of spending a chunk of my hard-earned change each week filling up my poor, banged-up Honda. Sadly, this is Atlanta - and I have few other options. Our mass transportation system stinks. I spent my first few months in the city taking the bus and train, only to realize it took two to three times longer to get to work that way than it did by car - traffic and all. And, unfortunately, I can't start up a work carpool because nobody in my office lives near me.
So after extensive research today (er, about 20 minutes trolling the Internet), I've come up with a few tips for conserving gas. Here's hoping they work.

1. Don't be idle. Savings can be made by switching off the engine at long lights, while sitting in traffic or when waiting to pick someone up.
2. Slow down, you move too fast. Simon & Garfunkel apparently had it right. The Department of Energy calculates that for every five miles a motorist drives above 60 mph, a fuel efficiency loss occurs. Most cars get the most efficient mileage figures between 45 and 55 miles per hour. Any jump to 65 mph significantly reduces fuel efficiency, while a further jump to 75 mph over long periods can result in an expensive return to the pumps. Cruise control also helps avoid wasteful engine revving.
3. Maintainence is key. Keeping your engine properly tuned can result in significant efficiency savings. This means you should regularly change the vehicle's oil, check and replace air filters to prevent engine damage and improve mileage and keep tires properly inflated. It will help out.
4. Lighten the load. If you're like me, you've probably got some clothes, a sleeping bag, beach chairs, tool kit - all sorts of odds-and-ends - taking up space in the trunk of the car. Clear it out! The EPA estimates that for every 100 pounds of weight your car carries, fuel efficiency dips by 2 percent.
5. Plan your road trips wisely. Are you driving from one end of the city to the other simply to visit your favorite market, hair salon or fitness center? Find ways to condense the trips. Seek out spots that are closer together or combine them all into one outing - rather than separate trips.
6. Do your homework. There are lots of Web sites out there with insight on where to buy the cheapest gas. Check out this site for one such example.
7. Keep it cool on the highway. When driving at lower speeds, roll down those windows. However, while crusing the highway, roll them up and crank the A/C. According to experts, opening your windows while driving at high rates of speed will actually increase drag and turbulence.
8. Join the club. Some gas stations, department stores and grocery stores offer lower gas prices or other incentives if you join their membership club. Or you could apply for a credit card that coughs up gas savings with purchases, similar to frequent flyer mile rewards. However, be careful of credit card interest rates which may negate said savings. Also verify that the stations you use don't charge higher prices to credit card customers.
9. Wait until the traffic dies down. Rather than sitting through that rush hour traffic, hang out for a bit. Head over to the closest fitness center. Or stop by a nearby coffee shop and stick your nose in a good book until traffic dies down. This can help lighten your wallet and your mood!
10. Make it a hybrid. Time to change vehicles? Most automakers are offering up a range of fuel-saving models these days. So do your research and find out which hybrids, SUVs or small cars provide the most bang for your buck. Don't forget, there are often tax breaks for people utilzing gas-saving cars.

And just to show you what an extra-special awesome person I am, here are a few sucralose-sweetened drink recipes designed to help cool off red-faced drivers whose tempers are revved up by the high gas prices.


Coconut Horchata

Endless Summer Lemonade

Iced Almond Mocha

Friday, August 15, 2008

Lemon Meringue? So much better than Strawberry Shortcake!

Growing up, I was never really into Barbie dolls all that much. It's not that I was some scabby-kneed tomboy who would snort with disdain any time friends starting playing with dolls...although I did love playing sports...I just didn't like the Barbie brand all that much. Strawberry Shortcake dolls on the other hand? LOVED 'EM! As a child of the 80s, I used to own most of the line of characters, all of whom I would create fantastical stories about, then stick in my parents' shoes and drag up and down the hallways - as if they were riding on floats in a parade. Yup, I had a pretty overactive imagination.

For those who missed out on the Strawberry Shortcake fad, each doll had their own dessert-themed name with clothing to match, as well as a dessert-named pet. And even better, all had delicious-scented hair to match their sweet theme. The characters lived and played in a magical world known as Strawberryland. Of course, not everything was roses in Strawberryland. The mustachioed Purple Pieman was a wee bit mischievous, living up in his Pie Tin Palace on Porcupine Peak. In retrospect, he was kind of a creepy character, running around doing a tap dance and constantly chanting "Yah-tah-tah-tah-tah-tah-tah-tah, tah-tah-tah-tah! Cha!" At the time, though, he was simply the somewhat slapstick bad guy of the bunch.

Moving addition to Strawberry Shortcake, some of the other top-selling dolls in the series included Huckleberry Pie, Apple Dumplin', Raspberry Tart, Crepe Suzette, and one of my personal favorites, Lemon Meringue. Miss Lemon was a famous model and could often be found lugging around her pet, Frappe Frog.

Stop making fun! I had lots of friends who loved their Strawberry Shortcake dolls. Plus, it was popular enough to generate a video game, TV show, clothes and there! Just so you know, I also lurved My Little Pony, Rose Petal, Care Bears and don't even get me started on the fabulous Jem cartoon.

So why am I babbling on about Strawberry Shortcake dolls? Well, it's simple really. Today is National Lemon Meringue Pie Day. So what better way to give you a sucralose-sweetened, low-calorie recipe then to preface it with a long, rambling intro about dolls from the 1980s? Hee.

Here's your recipe for the day.

Lofty Lemon Meringue Pie

More low calorie recipes here

And for my fellow Strawberry Shortcake fans out there, or even just retro TV buffs, here is an old-school cartoon clip for your weekend enjoyment.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Super Swimming

In the words of the inimitable Harry Caray, HOLY COW! Did y'all see the nail-biter of the men's 4x100-meter freestyle relay last night? It was AMAZING! For those that missed out, the U.S. men blasted the previous world record time and eked out a fingertip of a win over France, the gold medal favorites going into the race. The Superman award of the evening goes to Jason Lezak, the 32-year-old anchor who, despite hitting the water a half-second after then-world-record holder Alain Bernard, still wound up touching the wall a mere 0.08 of a second. The victory means Michael Phelps still has the opportunity to beat Mark Spitz's record of seven swimming gold medals in one Olympics. And it means Lezak swam the fastest anchor leg ever - beating his own personal best by more than one second. And talk about an impressive field. The top five relay teams in the final - which included Australia, Italy and Sweden - all finished under the previous world record.

And to quote Groundskeeper Willie from The Simpsons, "Bonjourrrrrrrrr, yah cheese-eatin' surrender monkeys!" HA! I jest, of course. But there is a bit of poetic justice in beating a trash-talking French team that claimed victory days before the race. As former Olympian Gary Hall Jr. can confirm, it's probably not a good idea to badmouth your competitors before the big race. Back in 2000, the American announced his relay team would smash the Australian team "like guitars." He was forced to eat those words, however, when the Australian team took the gold - and then followed up their victory with a poolside round of air guitar.

So congratulations to Lezak, Phelps and fellow relay teammates Cullen Jones and Garrett Weber-Gale for their amazing win. The relay race will likely remain one of the stand-out moments of the 2008 Olympic Games. You can watch it here.

And just to show we don't harbor any grudge toward our French brethren, here is a low-cal, sugar-free French Toast recipe. Enjoy!

Friday, August 08, 2008

Going for the Gold

So in case you've been living under a rock lately, the 2008 Olympics start today. And I, for one, am uber-excited. I can't wait to see how many world records the part-man-part-fish Michael Phelps shatters - or to watch Tyson Gay race around the track for the gold. While I do love professional sports, there is something so heart-warming about watching little-known athletes compete solely for the love of the sport, rather than for the fanfare or money. And there always seems to be one particularly awe-inspiring moment that just brings tears to your eyes - such as the infamous Miracle on Ice game of 1980 or Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci scoring the first-ever perfect 10. I personally feel nothing sums up the spirit of the Olympic Games more than speed skater Dan Jansen finally winning the elusive gold or the sight of the injured British runner Derek Redmond hobbling across the finish-line with the help of his father.

For that same reason, I also enjoy watching So You Think You Can Dance - one of only two reality programs I tune into regularly (the other being the fabulous Project Runway.) The show takes enormously talented young dancers - who will most likely never achieve any significant level of fame - and gives them the opportunity to work with some of the nation's top choreographers. By the way, congratulations to Joshua for winning the season four title last night.

Back to the Olympics...does anyone remember the hi-LAR-ious SNL skit featuring John Belushi as a top athlete with a penchant for cigarettes and little chocolate donuts? Well guess who found a link to the video! AND, for all you chocolate donut lovers out there, check out this sucralose-sweetened, low-calorie version donut mix from Dixie Carb Counters.

And now, for a few more moving moments, check out the Redmond race as well as one of my favorite So You Think You Can Dance performances from the fourth season. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

An onion a day keeps the doctors away?

Ever think that if you just ate the right foods, you could avoid cancer? Well, some studies do support this theory, showing a correlation between diet and certain cancers and illnesses. The Chicago Tribune even has a short but educational quiz online today to test your knowledge when it comes to the latest cancer/food research. Check it out!

For those who refuse to invest the approximately two minutes needed to take the quiz, here's an uber-short recap. Yes, studies show that cabbage can help prevent breast cancer, while flaxseed helps prohibit colon cancer and white button mushrooms can potentially help suppress prostrate cancer cells. In addition, people who eat pumpkin may have lower rates of gastric, breast, lung and colorectal cancers, while men who eat more onions may be less likely to develop lung cancer. There's more but it's all covered in the quiz.

So to support these theories, I've pulled a few sucralose-sweetened recipes heavy on the cancer-fighting ingredients.

Cabbage and Cranberry Slaw

California Broccoli Salad

Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Cucumber and Onion Salad

Bon appetit!

Friday, August 01, 2008

Cool Cocktails

Ever been tubing in a waterway? If not, you've GOTS to try it. I went to "shoot the hooch" last weekend, which is a funny ha-ha term to describe tubing on the Chattahoochee River. The best part is, we were able to bring along coolers filled with water, beer and mixed drinks - all perfect for the sunny, leisurely ride downstream. There were some particularly tasty drinks that afternoon. One friend, for example, made "flirtinis," a mixture of vodka, grapefruit juice and champagne that reminded me of the old "Sex and the City" parties my gal pals used to host back in the day. Another friend whipped up a frozen mango, cranberry drink that was crazy yummy. By the way, I'll be back on the river again in two weeks for a kayaking excursion. I'll keep you posted on how that one goes!
Anyway, thanks to the brilliant Hungry Girl, I now have a few more fun and fruity cocktails to bring to future tubing events and other parties.
Check it out!

Tropical Mango-rita Slushie
1/2 cup Diet V8 Splash in Tropical Blend
1/4 cup frozen unsweetened mango chunks
1 shot (1 1/2 oz.) blanco or silver tequila (the clear kind)
1/4 tsp. Crystal Light Lemonade powdered drink mix (1/4th of an On The Go packet or 1/16th of a tub)
1 cup crushed ice OR 5 - 8 ice cubes
* Non-alcoholic alternative: Swap the alcohol for extra Diet V8 Splash.

Directions: Place all of the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.

Sassy 'n Spiked Pink Lemonade Pitcher
6 cups club soda
2 cups Ocean Spray Diet Cranberry Spray
8 shots (12 oz.) 80-proof vodka
2 tsp. Crystal Light Lemonade or Pink Lemonade powdered drink mix (2 On The Go packets or half a tub)
8 no-calorie sweetener packets
4 lemons
* Use extra Ocean Spray instead of vodka for a virgin version with 14 calories, 0g fat and 3.5g carbs.

Place all ingredients except the lemons in a pitcher, and stir well. Cut 1 lemon into 8 slices, and set slices aside. Cut the remaining lemons in half, and squeeze the juice into the pitcher. Serve over ice and garnish with lemon slices.

Black Cherry Mamba Mojito
3/4 cup diet lemon-lime soda
1 shot (1 1/2 oz.) light rum
1/8 tsp. Kool-Aid Black Cherry Unsweetened Soft Drink Mix
12 mint leaves
4 dark sweet cherries (fresh and pitted or thawed from frozen)
1/4 lime, cut into slices
1 no-calorie sweetener packet (we like Splenda!)
5 - 8 ice cubes
* Ditch the rum and add water instead. Your alcohol-free fruity mojito will have 25 calories, 0g fat, 6g carbs and 0.5g fiber.

Directions: Remove seeds from lime slices. Then muddle the mint, lime and cherries in a glass. Add the soda, rum, Kool-Aid, and sweetener. Stir well. Add ice and enjoy!

Hope these low-cal, sucralose-sweetened recipes come in handy over what is expected to be a muggy weekend!