The Holiday Challenge

Wow okay. So despite my early week efforts, the past few days were not my greatest, nutrition-wise. Between Halloween and stress with work, I feel like I ate 100 mini candy bars. Obviously Hopefully that is an exaggeration, but then again, any amount greater than like 5 is too much.

Side Note: Is Trick or Treating not as big of a deal as it was in the 80s and 90s? Because I live in a huge neighborhood and we had maybe 20 kids.

So if Halloween is any indication, the holidays are going to be a formidable challenge. Three really bad days are okay. Three really bad months? Train wreck. Monumentally not okay. So now I have two goals: Prevention and Preparedness. Yes, I am forming a task force of one to combat Holiday Season Malnutrition.

I think the strategy here should be threefold. Each element to the plan is probably obvious, but obvious and easy are not the same thing. If they were, we wouldn’t be here. Everyone knows to eat fruits & vegetables instead of sugar & carbs. The challenge is doing what we’re told.

So, my Obvious Plan for Prevention & Preparedness (the O.P.P. …P.)

1. Exercise! Exercise provides negative calories. Granted, exercise doesn’t combat the actual badness of indulgent food, but it at least combats the most glaring problem: the excess calories. So if I know I am going to be indulging a bit extra one day, I should workout a bit extra that morning. You would think I would have been doing this all along, but it’s time to be a lot more conscious of this strategy now that my healthy living is in peril. Anyway, I’m a lot less inclined to binge when I’m feeling all good from that workout high.

2. New things to try instead. Thanksgiving is probably the biggest holiday in my family. My parents always said it was the only one we were absolutely required to come home for. There is probably some kind of psychological causal linkage there, given that Thanksgiving’s only tradition is the plentiful feast. It is literally an entire national holiday devoted to overeating! And at our Thanksgiving, like probably your’s and everyone else’s, it’s not as if we’re overeating a bunch of raw fruit. At least, at our house it’s all homemade and there are quite a few vegetables, but there’s still a lot of simple carbs and butter.

I already have some ideas in mind for healthy alternatives to some things. And for the things I would really miss, like my mom’s stuffing, I will just have spend some time meditating to the mantra “PortionControl…PortionControl…PortionControl.” Maybe that should actually be it’s own step in this action plan.

So more exercise. Healthy alternatives to traditional holiday foods. And step 3.

3. Mental and Physical (and Digestive) Strength.This is where preparation comes into play. I’m gonna read some Michael Pollan. I’m gonna get back into my old routine. In fact, I’m gonna step up my old routine! I am going to try to do everything I can to live as healthily as possible for the next three weeks. And then the month after that. And then forever and ever until this time next year. To make up for the insane amount of sugar I consumed this past week, I’m going to try hard to avoid it altogether for most of November. I’ve been fairly lax, allowing myself things like frozen yogurt and other, similar seemingly-harmless things lately. But it’s pretty easy to see how with an already lackadaisical (thank you spell check) attitude, a holiday season where we celebrate glutton could really push me over the edge and back into bad patterns. I’ve come way too far to let that happen, and hence, my task force and the Plan.

I’m pretty excited actually. Just like with the exercise, the more in tuned I am to eating healthy, the less likely I am to lose my way. Plus, I think I am more likely to succeed when the challenge seems more cumbersome. “Eat healthy” is too broad, and too subjective. Eat like you’re stranded and living alone on a desserted island? That’s a challenge I’m into.

So now that I have a solid strategy, I am pretty confident that the rest of the holiday season will be less catastrophic than Halloween turned out to be. I am excited, like I said, for all the steps, but I am especially looking forward to seeing what I can do with step 2.

xoxo.

-lj

It’s the Great Pumpkin

Three posts in one week! Can you tell I’m procrastinating on my actual work?

Working from home has both costs and benefits. The benefits are that I can wear sweatpants whenever I want and if I want to run errands or workout (or write a blog post) in the middle of the day and work in the evenings, that is totally fine as long as I meet my deadlines. The costs are that I am always near the kitchen and there is endless opportunity for distraction.

One of those distractions this week was pumpkin carving! It’s Halloween and for the first time in a long time I live in a neighborhood with kids around so I thought it’d be nice to be a tiny bit festive. So, I braved the residual wind and awfulness we are getting from Sandy in search of a pumpkin. Sadly, it turns out when you wait until October 30 to buy your pumpkin, there are not a lot of options left, which meant the one I found was smaller than I’d hoped. But, on the bright side the lovely but disgruntled Target employee at checkout didn’t bother to weigh mine, so I got it for about 80% off asking price. Bonus!

When I got it home I sketched out some different design ideas and finally settled on one of the easier ones. But apparently pumpkin carving is a much more involved process than I thought it was. I hadn’t carved a pumpkin in like two decades, and back then I’m pretty sure my mom did all the prep stuff for me. (This time she refused.)

Pumpkin Night Light

When I was done carving I was very pleased with myself for making such a cute (or at least not-terrible) pumpkin, and so was still in a creative mood. I looked to the mess of pumpkin guts still laying on a cutting mat on the table, and it occurred to me that just tossing all of it would be super wasteful. I had no idea what I was going to do with it, but I started by at least cleaning it up. I took a fork and combed all of the seeds out of the pulp.

I wanted to use both the seeds and the pulp but there was not very much of the latter. Or at least it didn’t look like much to me. The seeds, however, looked relatively ripe and plentiful. So I washed them off a bit and laid them out flat on a plate to dry while I finally got back to work figured out what to do with them.

Deciding what to do with them was sort of a process. At first I had some really grand ideas for using them as an ingredient in a couple of different elaborate autumnal dinner entrees, but I am pretty busy this week (despite contrary evidence) so I set those ideas aside for another time. I also wanted to make sure the pumpkin seeds were actually featured in whatever I was going to make, since the whole point is that I personally culled them from this fresh pumpkin. Just adding them as a garnish to my salad was not a good enough showcase.

Then I thought about making a trail mix. I love trail mix. I have a bag of fresh cranberries in the fridge and thought about learning how to make craisins, but again, I’m busy and this is supposed to be about the pumpkin seeds. I needed to shift focus. Finally, I accepted Occam’s culinary razor, and decided to roast them.

Plain old roasting is boring though. Definitely not worth an entire blog entry, nor all the consideration I had already given them. So I had to at least spice them up a bit.

I generally am more in favor of salty snacks than sweet ones. But I kind of wanted to keep the pumpkin-y thing going and use pumpkin spice flavors. Which led to the decision to just do both! Why not? Cinnamon and cayenne are both great detoxifiers and have been used together in the past, in molé for instance. Not that I know how to make that. Basically, in this recipe I added a bajillion different flavors and just hoped for the best.

I will admit that if you are really trying to watch your sugar then these should be a rare indulgence rather than a regular treat, but in comparison to all the processed Halloween candy and baked goods floating around this time of year, these Spicy Candied Pumpkin Seeds are certainly a healthier option.

Spicy Candied Pumpkin Seeds

Now, I have never “candied” anything before. If you happen to be a gourmet chef, culinary school student or otherwise very in tuned to cooking vocabulary, then maybe these are not candied per se. But who cares, they are freaking delicious.

Spicy Candied Pumpkin Seeds

My pumpkin yielded almost exactly 1+1/2 cups of uncooked seeds, which is almost exactly 1 cup of cooked seeds. A serving size is 1/4 cup of cooked seeds. (I wanted to eat the whole cup all at once, but we’ll stick with 1/4 for calories’ sake.)

Serves: 4

  • 1+1/2 Cups uncooked Pumpkin Seeds (if from an actual pumpkin then they should be washed and mostly dried)
  • 1+1/2 teaspoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 Tablespoon Dark Brown Sugar (or Brown Splenda, if you prefer)
  • 1/8 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper (or to taste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon Chili Powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon Ground Clove
  • 1/4 teaspoon Nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cocoa Powder (unsweetened)
  • 2 teaspoons Honey
  • 1+1/2 teaspoons Vanilla Extract (Quick Caveat: I actually spilled the vanilla into my mixture accidentally so there might have been more (or less). But I’m saying 1.5 t.)
  • Sea Salt to taste

Preheat oven to 325.

In a small bowl or mixing cup, add 1 teaspoon brown sugar, plus all spices. Mix together. Add the vanilla, honey and 1 teaspoon EVOO. Mix it all until it is the consistency of a dressing.

It looks like brownie batter. It was hard not to lick the spoon.

Spread a piece of parchment paper over a baking sheet. Lay out the pumpkin seeds on the paper. Drizzle the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of oil over the seeds, stirring them to make sure all the seeds are coated (at least a little). Spread out the seeds so that they are as close to a single layer as possible. Add salt. Drizzle the spice mixture over the seeds. Use a brush or spoon and stir to even the sauce over all the seeds. Again, spread the seeds into a single layer if possible. (The seeds will stick together so just do your best.)

Bake seeds for 15 minutes. At 15 minute mark, stir seeds, and again spreading them as flat as possible, sprinkle the remaining two teaspoons of brown sugar over the baking sheet. Bake for another 10 minutes or until they are done. (You can do a taste test. They are done when they are crunchy and do not split apart when you bite into it.) Make sure to watch them in the last 5 minutes to avoid burning them.

Remove from the oven when they are finished baking, and let sit, on paper, another couple minutes. Stir them around a little to make sure they are all done, and to break them apart if they’ve stuck together.

I highly recommend eating them while they are still warm. They are good later on as a cold snack but the warm ones were phenomenal. (I suppose you could re-warm them in the oven for a few minutes.) I had to tear myself away before I ate 3/4 of the batch in one sitting.

Even if you eat two servings though, it won’t be the end of the world. One 1/4 cup serving is about 190 calories. Since they are seeds, they have around 14g of fat, but they also have 10g of protein and 5g of fiber. Those are some serious seeds!

I enjoyed this whole pumpkin thing. I like any project where you can use the refuse for something completely different and just as exciting! Making a pumpkin-related food was not my starting goal, I just wanted to do something artsy. But I’m glad my art project was edible, because man those seeds are delish.

-lj