Kitchen Experiment: Homer Simpson-Style Low Carb Vegan Pumpkin Almond Suprise

The ‘surprise’ was it was good.

Our cupboards are filled with the discards of good intentions never followed up on, of exotic treats and unusual ingredients that go unused, of family food-fads that peter out and leave us with excess Water Chestnuts, applesauce cups, or Quinoa that seemed like a good idea at the time but now when offered up to the kids is reacted to as a punishment.

I was looking for something different – something sweet – and something that wouldn’t totally ruin the fragile hold I had on the start of a low carb diet. I found one of those aseptic boxes of cooked, unsweetened, unspiced pumpkin – the sort of thing you’d use for a pie. I don’t ever recall seeing it – but I also don’t remember looking for boxed pumpkin, so that might have something to do with it.

I’ve tried just sweetening this stuff with some sucralose in the past but that just doesn’t do it.

Then I noticed the forgotten almond flour. I try to avoid too many Omega-6s and most nuts are chock-full of them, but I’ve promised myself that I wasn’t going to get anywhere at present if I put too many restrictions on myself. Almond flour is low carb, high fiber, and tastes good, too.

I don’t have measurements for you but the box of pumpkin was roughly the size of your regular soup can, and I kept putting in almond flour until it had thickened considerably. Maybe 3/4 cups? I mixed well, and gave a taste.

Not bad. The almond flour ratcheted back the intense pumpkin flavor and the pumpkin blunted the almond flavor. It tasted like what? A pumpkin pudding? Pumpkin cake batter? I could picture throwing in a couple of eggs as binding and baking it into a cake of sorts but I didn’t go there.

It really wasn’t bad as-is. As a young adult/dope I used to occasionally buy rolls of cookie dough and eat it raw so I have a little Homer Simpson in me – and this was way better for me than that was. It *did* need a little touching up, however, so I added about 4 drops of liquid sucralose, maybe 2 tablespoons of cinnamon, and a 1/4 tablespoon of nutmeg and mixed well until no powder showed in the mix.

If I had intended to make this rather than bumbling around it would have taken less than 5 minutes.

I ate maybe a cup of the stuff and was quite satisfied. Whatever flavor-hole needed filling, this did it, I have maybe 3 cups left and can see myself probably finishing it up in the coming week.

I also realized the purely by accident it happened to be vegan, which helped the title of the post be even more absurd than it already was.

UPDATE 5/9/15: I have received comments on this that essentially say: ‘Worst. Recipe. Ever.’ Despite this, I’m having some for breakfast today and I still think it ain’t that bad. If you like pumpkin pie, it’s not a bad substitute in my opinion. Go ahead: hate on me, hate on my recipe.

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Seasons52 Restaurant Review

We decided to go to a new restaurant, Seasons52. It’s a new concept to me: a place where the menu proudly states that no entrée is more than 475 calories. There are no ‘endless bread sticks’ or huge portions dripping in butter. The portions are small compared to most chain restaurants, the food carefully prepared to bring out the natural flavors, and the ingredients seem high quality. It is minimalist, portion-controlled, and a much healthier choice than the majority of the restaurants in the area.

Maybe that’s why it was a 2-hour wait to get a table. The place was packed. While the ‘value proposition’ of the place goes against the grain of competing restaurants offering huge portions, perhaps there’s a niche for a place that serves artfully prepared but unpretentious food in adequate portions. It’s an European sensibility applied to food that I would call ‘American’.

The menu makes little attempt to define their food as derived from any ethnic cuisine. Some restaurants have entrees that seem as if they are representing the United Nations, with Italian entries next to Asian entrees next to Mexican entrees – all bearing little resemblance to the authentic cuisines they steal from. At Seasons52, the food is uniquely theirs. I give them credit: it’s a bold move to become the anti-Cheesecake Factory – and I’m sure that – with one not far down the road – many people – having tried this place, never come back because for the same price you get way more food at The Cheesecake Factory.

But for people who don’t need to equate the quality of the dining experience with the volume of food nor the number of ingredients, Seasons52 might be worth a try.

The first thing you notice is that there is no free bread at the table. Instead, they sell different varieties of flatbreads as appetizers, baked with a selection of toppings. We ordered a lobster and mozzarella flatbread and a long, thin bread, topped with not only lobster and mozzarella, but basil and diced peppers and squirted with a bit of lemon arrived on a long, flat board designed just for this dish. The long rectangle was cut into 8 triangular pieces and we each got two. They were delicious, with none of the flavors overpowering the others.

When we were done we wanted more – but isn’t that the long-forgotten point of an appetizer? Americans have become accustomed to going to a restaurant, filling up on bread, sharing a big appetizer, then forcing down what many times ends up being a mediocre entree.

The entrees were consistent in philosophy and execution as the appetizer. We each had ordered different ones: I had a cut of roast salmon on a cedar plank with a creamy mustard sauce and the root vegetables potatoes and carrots – not a lot in terms of portion-size, but all the ingredients clearly were high quality and did not need to be tarted up with sauces and unnecessary spices. I very much enjoyed my salmon dish and was satisfied without being stuffed.

My wife had the carmelized scallops which came on a bed of roasted crushed potatoes with some small amount of vegetable mixed in. I had a bite of the scallop and they did a wonderful job of adding just the right touch of sweetness without overpowering the taste or ruining the texture of the scallop – a delicate balancing act done successfully.

My older daughter had a pork chop with some sweet potato mash. Again the same sensibility. I did not try this, but both my daughter and wife remarked how tender and flavorful the meat was.

My youngest daughter had the pasta. Again – the same sensibility. Instead of piling on the cheap pasta and throwing shrimp in top then drowning it in sauce, the pasta complemented the shrimp in roughly equal proportions, with fresh spinach added and a light sauce that didn’t steal from any cuisine but came straight from the restaurant’s own esthetic.

My older daughter, who is long and lean as well as a lacrosse player, can tuck away quite a volume of food, yet at the end of the meal announced she was stuffed. I imagined that very few ‘doggie bags’ were carried out of this place. To me, a ‘more-is-better’ type of person (the reason I’m fat), they executed the ‘less-is-more’ approach to food flawlessly.

But we weren’t done yet.

Their execution of the ‘dessert menu’ is again sensible – and shrewd.

We were stuffed – remember? They do not ask you if you want to see a dessert menu – instead they bring over a tray of desserts – each in a small glass – dessert flights as they are called. Each is a tiny taste of decadence that won’t make anyone feel guilty about having dessert. The shrewd part is that: the dessert is *there*. They bring it to you without you asking for it, entice you with the actual dessert and not a picture, and if you want one they take it off the tray and give it to you. Immediate gratification after putting the damn thing right under your nose.

Our reservation was after 9pm it was late by then and the kids were fading fast, but were roused by the dessert. While I skipped it, the three of them took one. I had a taste of two of them. Again, well done, with flavors that complemented rather than competed. My wife got one with a tiny squeeze tube of amaretto so you could apply just a few drops to heighten the experience.

Seasons52 is food crafted with the precision of a Mars mission. It is novel approach for an American chain restaurant. When ‘healthy’ food is served at restaurants it usually flops – or is done as a sneaky psychological ruse. In fact, many chains put healthy items on the menu knowing full well that it lures customers in – who then order the high-calorie decadent stuff next to it. Others put faux healthy items on their menu – usually salads – then pack so many calories into the thing that your perceived sense of restraint was instead a sneaky con job by the restaurant.

Here the food is honest, minimalist, and fulfilling. It’s a fine dining experience in a relaxed atmosphere with beautiful woodwork throughout the space – yet it avoids pretension. As I stated before, this is the anti-Cheesecake Factory down to the decor – The Cheesecake Factory having the most overwrought, overstated, and garish decor and architecture that screams everything but good taste.

Seasons52 only has about 42 locations so far in the US, but if you have the opportunity to try it out – and don’t feel like you are somehow being cheated by not getting ‘endless breadsticks’ or huge portions, it’s worth a try.

The April Fool Day 2: Wednesday, April 2, 2014 – 223.4

Day 2: Wednesday, April 2, 2014 – 223.4

Small 2 lb. drop. Given I felt I ate a lot the night before I was slightly surprised.

38.5 pound to go to reach my September 1 goal of 185.

The morning was my typical coffee and cream as well as coconut oil and cream a bit later.

My first meal of the day (aside from caffeine and pure fat) was some of the lovely Applegate American cheese and a mini brie. I also ate fruit – an avocado.

I’m feeling that ‘weird’ feeling that means the onset of ketosis. It shouldn’t be hard – I haven’t been exactly binging on carbs for a good part of the previous month. My carb intake might have been higher than I’d have liked bit it was probably less than half of the average person’s already.

As is usual during the ketosis conversion, my head is clear and I feel OK – just weird.

If I was in ketosis, though, it was only light ketosis. Not what I expected.

I finished up that tiny bit of chicken / bacon / sour cream combo from the night before, then made a tuna salad with scallions. I put in what amounted to 3 tablespoons of mayonnaise but it seemed a bit dry, so I tried adding a bit of sour cream – my thinking here is the sour cream is a better choice than another 3 tablespoons of mayonnaise – and perhaps it will add the creaminess without eliminating the flavor notes of the mayonnaise. I also added about 4 shakes of Worcestershire sauce.

It came out good. I’ve come to find that Worcestershire sauce works well for more than a steak.

I ate this on pork rinds and left it unfinished – again, trying to get into the habit of not eating to the container. I washed this down with the ‘comfort food’ flavor of almond milk sweetened with EZ-Sweetz.

I went to bed early as the wife was studying there and my younger daughter was doing her homework in bed with her. My wife was watching some concert on Youtube – I don’t share the same musical tastes as my wife usually. As of late I’ve been listening to Caravan Palace (I love the cartoon on this one):

She was watching Chris Botti with the Boston Pops. I usually tune out whatever she’s listening to, but this particular concert was unique: a symphony orchestra backing up a jazz ensemble, with appearnaces by Yoyo Mah, Sting, Steven Tyler, and John Mayer, among others. That’s not your usual lineup. The music was eclectic and unexpected – and the musicians truly looked like they were enjoying themselves.

I had no idea who Chris Botti was before this – I want to check him out further after seeing the concert.

I’m reading Do you Believe in Magic? (http://amzn.com/0062222961) which details nicely my concerns with supplements and how we have come to a place where entirely unregulated pills can make whatever wild claims they want and get away with it. As with most things I read in this area, the book is not without its own biases, but the information is interesting.

For example:

On October 10, 2011, researchers from the University of Minnesota found that women who took supplemental multivitamins died at rates higher than those who didn’t . Two days later, researchers from the Cleveland Clinic found that men who took vitamin E had an increased risk of prostate cancer. “It’s been a tough week for vitamins,” said Carrie Gann of ABC News.

These findings weren’t new . Seven previous studies had already shown that vitamins increased the risk of cancer and heart disease and shortened lives. Still, in 2012, more than half of all Americans took some form of vitamin supplements.

Offit M.D., Paul A. (2013-06-18). Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine (Kindle Locations 613-616). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

I have a funny feeling that some of you are feeling a distancing from me as I quote the above. Most people love their vitamins and herbal supplements.

My choice in music might also distance you. When I add details like this that don’t jibe with your preferences it prevents you from projecting things onto me that, since I typically leave them out, you can be free to assume.

“Let’s see – this guy listens to Chris Botti and Caravan Palace – and he thinks supplements are dangerous – I’m outta here!”

Oh well – unlike most bloggers, I’m not trying to get the most hits – this is an experiment in authenticity in a world of posers and I want to see where that takes me.

The concert completed with the book as I stopped to watch some amazing performances.

In bed, reading and watching the concert, I finished off the evening with a few squares of the Lindt 85% Dark Chocolate and a Fage Yogurt with EZ-Sweetz. I was up a bit later than usual reading after the concert was over, then quickly fell asleep.

Another giant rabbit-shaped sugar cookie appeared on my bed stand – my younger daughter snacking on it as she did her homework between Mom and Dad. I almost reach for it a number of times when going for my iPhone.

Sugar cookies are following me.

Quick & Easy Low Carb Oatmeal Substitute

[Haven’t written in a while and for those regular readers curious how the diet’s going: awful. I plan on writing more in the new year but for now here’s a recipe]

Recipes of this sort have been knocking around the low carb and Paleo sites for a while now and having the ingredients sitting around looking for a use, I thought I would come up with my own super-simple version.

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons almond meal
  • 4 tablespoons coconut flakes
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 4 drops of EZ-Sweetz

You can see that the prep time for the above was about a minute. 2 minutes in the microwave, and you’re done. I did have to mix it, slicing up the mixture with my spoon as the egg had set and made it hold together. I also added a bit more almond milk, making it probably closer to the 1/2 cup mentioned above.

The result was pretty damn good if you ask me. Considering I was eating a tasty, hot and filling breakfast in less than 5 minutes, I’d say I must consider this as worthy of being added to my list of regulars. This wouldn’t be half-shabby as a dessert as well.

Nutrition Info:

Calories: 360
Fat: 30g
Sat fat: 11g
Carbs: 11g
Net carbs: 6g
Protein: 15g

Low Carb FAQ

[UPDATE: I am busy with a number of things and thought I might leave this post in place for a while, updating occasionally with new questions. Let’s see how this goes]

A lot of people get to this site through search engines, and I can see what these folks entered into the search bar to find me. A lot of these form questions, and I thought I could save you the miserable experience of reading through my site and instead provide a short FAQ of my answers to popular questions.

Please note I said my answers – not the answer. I am no expert. Consider me just some schlub answering your question and not any authority on the subject. Do your own research: I might be a loony.

At present they are in no particular order – and will probably stay that way. I’ll put the most recent at the top so the readers who keep tabs on me don’t have to dig.

Continue reading “Low Carb FAQ”

Atkins Induction Day 5 – This Ain’t It

I have had a tough week – but a good one as well. I’ve been busy as all get-out, and pushing a lot of work through me. I haven’t smoked since I stopped, thanks to the nicotine lozenges – a problem in themselves I need to deal with but at a later date, and I’ve avoided alcohol. I have also been on what I characterize as a ‘news diet’ where I avoid the daily Wagnerian drama of the news. I am completely uninformed – but I am also less distracted. My mind is clear, and Things Are Getting Done – and that’s a nice feeling.

The  *ahem* ‘Low Carb Diet’ has not been successful at all, however. I got the mornings and the afternoons down pat: low carb all the way: a full fat Greek yogurt, heavy cream, tuna and mayo, chicken thighs with sour cream, roast beef and butter – all good stuff – with the exception of the mayo – too much seed oil in my way of thinking.

Evenings are the problem. They start good, descend to ‘OK’, then plunge into ‘what the fuck?’ territory. This first night, sitting with my wife in the kitchen while she ate after coming home late, a clear plastic container of bite-sized lemon cupcakes with white cream and a dollop of pure lemon-sugar goo, looking like the yolk of a tiny egg, sat on top in the middle. If they weren’t in front of me. If they weren’t in a clear plastic clamshell box. If they weren’t *lemon* I might not have crumbled.

They were good, mind you – these were above-par as 2-bite cupcakes go. The sugar blast didn’t obscure the lemon flavor – they were in a good balance to one another, and the cream was real – light and also properly sweetened so as not to overpower the flavor note of the cream itself but rather enhance it.

My only qualm with the product was this ‘2-bite’ labeling. They were single bite. I know: I had 4 and each one only took a bite. I’ll have to write a letter to the manufacturer about this mislabeling.

It’s been like that for the past 2 days, with other temptations and similar patterns, and history shows that evenings on a weekend are particularly rough. The only saving grace is that my ‘busyness’ will extend into the weekend and I won’t have too many opportunities to graze – though my rushing hither and thon *might* cause the consumption of crap on the run.

My tracking has also been haphazard  and I need to focus on improving that. I find it helps – even in the casual way I do it without worrying over every single calorie. It makes it much simpler, but I haven’t even done that to the level I want to be at for the past few days.

It’s why I call dieting a practice – and sometimes a ‘practice’ goes lousy for a while. It’s not a reason to give up the practice, or get upset – you just keep practicing until you get over whatever hump you need to clear – that’s all.

I did cook some BBQ last night so I have some low carb food prepped in the fridge. I do have a chance I catching a tailwind. We’ll see

.I’m 3.6 pounds down from my high of 213.6 on Monday, so it hasn’t been an entire failure.

Success in anything is a combination of smarts, hard work, and good luck. You can work on the first two, and it – sometimes – leads to increasing the chances of the third. I’ll keep practicing – ‘starting low carb induction every day’ – until it clicks.

It’s just the way I am.

Scenes From a Low Carb Life: Counting Calories at the Chinese Buffet

A random Chinese buffet - they all look the same...
A random Chinese buffet – they all look the same…

Friday, February 01, 2013 – 199.8

On January 01 I was 209.4. In 1 month I lost 9+ pounds and just came in a hair’s breadth under 200. That’s the short story. All the in-between stuff reminds me of a Will Rogers quote: ‘People who like sausage or respect the law should not watch either being made.’ The month was not a steady progression downward as much as a roller-coaster.

Upon reflection, perhaps January is the worst possible month for doing anything except persevering through – at least for me. Snow holds no magic except that power to make my car slide uncontrollably into oncoming traffic or get stuck on the side of the road. Skiing – a sport that necessitates falling in the snow, I find as alluring as wrestling in a hog pen.

Perhaps I should avoid my inclination to overthink things, take my winnings for January, and be happy with what I got. Onto February – a month designed to be especially short because you’re just too fed up with winter to endure a long month.

I noticed myself in the mirror as I got ready for work and I just looked so fat. Compared to what? I asked myself. I am within 5 pounds of the lowest weight I’m been in 5 years and the reflection in the mirror seems distorted and bloated. Strange how this works: one day I might feel fine about my weight and the next day, the same weight, I feel like a sumo wrestler who’s let himself go.

Continue reading “Scenes From a Low Carb Life: Counting Calories at the Chinese Buffet”