Monday, December 26, 2011

How I Quit Smoking

This is a blog post I've been wanting to write for a while. 

I was a smoker for a few years. I didn't smoke for a long time, and I didn't start when I was young like some people do, but from the moment I started smoking to the day I quit, I smoked a lot. I think it has to do with my personality. I'm a Taurus, and I tend to do things to the extreme. Things I like- I like a lot! And things I don't like, I hate. I struggle with finding the in between


I started smoking socially like most people in Istanbul. In fact, I remember it very clearly. I was probably 19 or 20 and I was dating this guy and he smoked and I hated how it smelled, so I would smoke a clove at night while we were out, back when you could smoke inside clubs. 


Also, my best friend smoked; actually, all of my friends smoked, so it was never a big deal. No one was there to judge me. Then I slowly transitioned to regular cigarettes and then before I knew it, I was smoking a pack a day (I know, mom and dad, awful). 


The reason I'm writing this blog post is because I want people to know it's not as hard as you think to quit. Everyone always used to say to me, 'there's no way you can quit!' and I did. And you can do it too.


Over 10 million copies sold. Photo Credit
I credit quitting smoking to a book called 'The Easy Way to Stop Smoking' by Allen Carr. This book really helped me. It basically debunks all the 'reasons' why you think you 'need' to smoke, from stress relief (it actually increases your heart rate and thus causes you to be more stressed) to boredom (what happens when you smoke a cigarette out of boredom? you're still bored, but just smoking now, too). It convinces you that life will be so much better without cigarettes, and that that's when your life begins. 


And life is so much more amazing now that I don't smoke. I really can't believe I ever did. Some of the benefits of quitting include:
1. Clearer skin (nicotine clogs your pores and causes you to break out)
2. Whiter teeth (seriously. the change is noticeable)
3. More energy 
4. Better stamina re: working out. I can run twice as long as I used to be able to. 
5. Obvious health benefits
6. Waking up feeling clean without a gross, phlegmy throat. 
7. Clothes that don't smell (of course, going out in Istanbul ruins this one) 
8. Weight loss (would you believe I was so nervous about gaining weight after quitting that I actually lost weight!? Mostly because I upped my workouts as well) but also because...


Doing one good thing for your body motivates you to do more. Quitting smoking is such an incredible thing for yourself and makes you feel so great that it inspires you to do more good things for yourself. At least, this is what happened with me. Quitting smoking made me feel like I could climb a mountain and I found myself becoming increasingly motivated to get healthy thanks to one big change. 
Back when...


Everyone asks if I miss it. I don't. Occasionally when you're out at night, tipsy, and everyone around you is smoking, the thought might cross your mind. But then you remember all the reasons why you quit smoking. One thing that helps me is my 'Reasons Why I Don't Smoke Anymore' list. Whenever I'm feeling weak, since it's saved on my phone, I can glance at it, and renew my commitment


Here is my list. I know it is incredibly nerdy and some of the points are just ridiculous, but it's what helps me. These are MY reasons. What are yours? 


1. Unhealthy- heart disease, lung cancer, stroke, high blood pressure, emphysema. 
2. Makes me smell gross, fingers smell. 
3. Makes my skin splotchy, zits. 
4. Hated lying to my parents. 
5. Causes blood clots if you're on birth control. 
6. Doesn't fit with my nutrition aspirations. 
7. Money down the drain. 
8. If not now, when? Life's too short. 
9. No longer imprisoned; rules my life. 
10. Inhibits my running. 
11. Life without will be just as great- better even. 
12. Disgusting habit that's totally unnecessary
13. Showing everyone that says you can't, that you can!
14. There's nothing I can't do. 
15. No fear. 
16. Remember the terrible nausea, headaches and cold sweats you suffered during withdrawal. 


And remember: There's no such thing as just one cigarette

Friday, December 23, 2011

Five Things To Do Everyday

When it comes to day to day life, I find that many people are willing to factor in everything from work to family stuff to socializing, except health. But living a healthy life isn't something that will just happen. You have to make a conscious effort everyday. And hopefully, those efforts will soon turn into habits and you'll find yourself doing them without thinking. I make an effort to do a number of small things related to my health everyday. I find that doing these things daily not only brightens my day or/and attitude, but also keeps me wanting to make better decisions for my body and mind overall. 


                                                                                    Get moving
Me running my first race. 
When it comes to working out, my philosophy is of the 'do what you can' sort. I don't believe the gym is right or realistic for everyone. Some people I know love it and need that sort of discipline. Others wouldn't be caught dead in one. The are lots of ways you can get active. Yesterday I wasn't able to find a cab for almost a half hour, so I just started walking in the direction I was supposed to go. Frustrated, I kept looking back over my shoulder to see if a free cab was approaching. Then, I decided that I would give up on looking for a cab and just walk the distance (it was about another half hour) instead. I hadn't had a chance to work out that day anyway, and this way, I got some much needed activity into my day. Point is, you don't necessarily have to go to a class or yoga or whatever; there are ways to move more on a daily basis. When the opportunity presents itself, take it. I could very well have just stood there, waiting, angry, and missed out on a nice easy workout. If all you can do is some lunges or crunches in your office, do it. On those lazy days when you can't get out of bed, trick yourself. I say, 'okay, just do 10 minutes, then you can stop'. Often by the time I reach 10 minutes, I find myself wanting to do more. 


  Hug someone
It has been proven time and again how important physical contact is to our well-being. There are days in New York when I'm home alone all day cooking or working and by the evening, I find myself in a funk. Then I'll head over to my friend's house, give them a hug and spend the evening catching up. I am someone who needs physical contact, and I don't mean it in the way you think. I am always putting my arms around my friends or touching their arms or whatever. This sounds super weird written down but the point I'm trying to make is that it's important to have contact with people. And I think hugging is seriously underrated. A fun fact: a hug that lasts under 6 seconds doesn't allow you to reap the awesome, healing properties that one more than 6 seconds does. So hug a little longer than seems normal; not uncomfortably so, but you know what I mean. 


Photo credit.
Drink green tea
I try to drink a mug of green tea everyday. Now I'm a major coffee person. It's how I start my mornings and how I end my dinners (with a caffeine-free espresso). I love coffee, and yes it has many heart-healthy properties, but green tea is a nutritional powerhouse. It has powerful antioxidants, is good for your heart, helps you control your weight, wards off diabetes (Type 2), helps you control your blood sugar and much more. If you don't like the taste, try a different kind. There are lots of different blends to choose from and it just might be a matter of finding the right one (I like Mint Green Tea). You'll be doing your body a favor. 


Eat your fruits and veg
There's really no way around this one. Eat your damn fruits and veg! Whatever it takes, whatever you have to say to yourself to make this happen, do it. Add half a grapefruit to your breakfast routine, add some sautéed spinach or mushrooms to your morning eggs, throw an apple in your purse for a mid-afternoon snack, slice up a delicious kiwi onto your ice-cream or yogurt after dinner, keep crudite in the fridge to munch on in between meals. Today I found that by lunch, I hadn't had any fruit yet, so I capped off my veg-heavy lunch with an apple. I didn't feel like it, but I did it anyway. Why? Other than all the amazing reasons fruit and veg are good for you, getting your servings in guarantees that you will receive all the micronutrients necessary for the day. What happens when you don't get these? Your hunger signal never turns off! That's why on days where you've eaten mostly processed foods you are oddly never full- it's because your body is sending out the hunger signal in hopes that you'll consume those nutrients. So this rule is especially important if you are struggling with weight loss


                                                                     Take your vitamins
Photo credit.
This is something I can afford to be better at as well. Everyday I try to take a multivitamin, Vitamin C, Vitamin D and something to strengthen my hair and nails. I have been slacking recently but taking your vitamins is the best way to ensure that you are getting everything your body needs, especially if you are not the healthiest eater. Vitamin D deficiency is serious; if you haven't read my blog entry about it, go here to do so. Your body can react in strange ways when its not getting the vitamins it needs. You can put on weight, feel sluggish or even start losing your hair if you aren't getting the right combination of vitamins, so I at least recommend you take a multivitamin everyday


These are 5 things I try to do everyday. I'm not always perfect, and there are some days when I do none of them, but it's worth an effort. The days when I manage to do all of these are my best days, mentally and physically, so give it a try. Do you do these things? What do you like to do everyday to make yourself feel healthy? 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What to Eat at Fish Restaurants

I am currently in Istanbul, Turkey with my family for the holidays and won't be cooking much while here. We have an amazing lady who cooks for us and helps out around the house, and with the fridge always brimming with yummy Turkish food, there's no need for me to cook. I thought it would be fun for me to share some tips for eating out at different restaurants. 


One of my favorite restaurants to eat at in Istanbul are the fish restaurants. The Turkish appetizers, or meze, are my favorite though I do enjoy the fresh fish as well. The meze, combined with the fried 'ara sicak' (hot appetizers), fish, bread and alcohol can really add up though and leave you feeling totally stuffed upon leaving. Here is how I navigate this challenge. 


Decide beforehand what you want to eat. 
This goes for any restaurant really. Decide beforehand what you want to splurge on, so you have a plan of attack. This really works for me. For example, some days I will feel like eating only meze, and some days I feel like skipping the meze and having a larger serving of fish. If you decide beforehand, you won't end up eating everything placed in front of you (which can be tough, since the waiters usually serve you!). This goes for alcohol too- decide how many glasses of raki (ouzo) or wine you want to have, and try to stick to it. 


Yogurtlu semizotu (yogurt with purslane) Photo Credit


Stay away from the bread basket. 
This really goes without saying, but those little slices of toasted bread that keep appearing fresh on the table really add up! And even worse, many fish restaurants here serve cornbread instead of normal bread, which has twice as many calories as normal bread. Your best bet here is to ask if they have wheat bread; no need to eat white bread if they do indeed have wheat bread. Then, what I like to do, is take a piece of bread, and try to make it last throughout dinner. Or if you have decided two pieces is good for you, take two pieces and place them on your plate and work with them throughout the meal. 


Fill up on salad. 
Another great tip to silence the call of the bread basket is to immediately begin filling up on salad. One of the best things about fish restaurants is the fact that they offer gorgeous fresh salads. You can get the çoban salata (chef's salad) which consists of tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers and parsley in an olive oil-lemon dressing or the arugula salad (my favorite) which is arugula, tomatoes and (optional) feta. As long as you don't go crazy with the olive oil, you can eat as much of this as you want. Filling up on salad is a great way to get your daily nutrients as well. 


çoban salata (Shephard's salad); Photo credit


Choose wisely. 
Some of the options at a fish restaurant are actually really smart. The roasted eggplant puree, yogurt dishes and olive oil based vegetable dishes are all really great choices. Watch out with the large triangles of feta that are sometimes served as they are more than 2 servings worth. 


Skip the fried stuff. 
The 'ara sicak' (hot appetizers) are usually less healthy than the main meze. Some options include fried calamari, börek (phyllo dough pastry) and güveç (butter sautéed shrimp covered in cheese). I would recommend skipping these dishes and waiting on the main course. Of course, if calamari is your favorite, then factor it into your meal, but skip something else you don't care about so much (like maybe the feta cheese). 


Izgara levrek (grilled sea bass) Photo credit


Grilled fish beats other options. 
When it comes to the main course, grilled fish is your best bet. I love getting grilled sea bass. Some other options include fried fish and those who don't like fish can always go with Turkish meatballs. But the healthiest option is grilled fish, and if you are full by the time the mains come along, you can always share. 


Go with the fruit. 
When it comes to dessert, though fresh fruit is always best, sometimes you want something a little more indulgent. There are two tricks I like to employ. First off, desserts made using fruit are usually much healthier than those without. For example, kabak tatlisi consists of pumpkin so it's a better choice than chocolate soufflé. Also, keep in mind that the first 2 bites are always the most satisfying, so you don't need to necessarily eat the whole thing. 


My favorite Turkish fish restaurants
Balikci Sabahattin
Karakoy Lokantasi
Bebek Balikci
Poseidon
Balikci Kahraman
Doga Balik

Sunday, December 11, 2011

My Eggs Florentine

If I'm not mistaken, Eggs Florentine consists of poached eggs, spinach and smoked salmon. Or a variation of those ingredients. Well, this morning I woke up starving and needed something heartier than my usual english muffin with peanut butter. 


I headed down to Whole Foods and picked up some smoked salmon, egg whites and feta, along with some fruit to snack on for later. 


One of the key factors to putting out a great breakfast is timing. I guess this applies to any meal but I feel it's particularly important with breakfast. There's the coffee, the eggs, the bread being toasted- and if you don't pace yourself, you could end up with overcooked eggs, untoasted bread and no coffee to serve. 




Here's what I do:
1. Start boiling your water for your coffee if you use a French Press like me. 
2. Make sure all your ingredients are prepped for your eggs. So if you need chopped onions or shredded cheese or whatever, do this first. 
3. If you toast your bread in a panini maker like me, turn that on. If not, no worries here. 
4. Start cooking your eggs only if you begin with onions or by sautéing veggies. This morning I began by sautéing spinach, so I threw that into the pan (without the eggs!). 
5. Once the veggies are almost done, and you are ready to add the eggs, toast your bread. 
6. Your water should be boiled by now, so prepare your coffee and allow to sit. French press coffee should sit for at least 5 minutes before you serve. 
7. By now your bread should be just about toasted, so add the eggs! This should always be the last step. Watch them carefully and turn off the stove with a minute to spare as the eggs will continue cooking after the stove is turned off. Now, add the cheese if you like. The eggs will melt the cheese. 


Voila! Everything should be ready to serve according to this time table. However, maybe you have different steps or more dishes. Like maybe you serve your breakfast with bacon or whatever. What this really comes down to is practice! You'll get the hang of it and soon enough have your own process. 


My Eggs Florentine
Serves 1
Egg whites equivalent to 2 eggs*
1 cup frozen spinach
1/8 cup crumbled feta
1/2 oz smoked salmon
1 slice toasted whole wheat bread
Spray olive oil


Directions: Saute the spinach in olive oil. Add the eggs, give a quick mix and allow to cook for a few minutes. Turn off the stove and add the cheese. Prepare by placing the smoked salmon on the toasted bread. Add the eggs on top. 


The most filling and delicious breakfast ever! This clocks in at around 200 calories, but with over 20g protein, it'll keep you full till your next meal. 


*Why do I use egg whites? Well, we have cholesterol in my family and honestly, I'd rather use those calories and cholesterol towards my cheese! Occasionally, I'll have normal eggs but since I eat egg whites rather frequently at home, I usually leave out the yolks. That's where all the calories and cholesterol is. And some would argue, the flavor;) 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Kale Chips

One of my favorite snacks are kale chips. It might sound like a boring, 'healthy' snack or just plain unappetizing, but don't knock 'em till you try it. They are delicious. 


However, they come at a pretty penny. One small bag of them can go for like 8 bucks at Whole Foods. And there's really nothing to them. Kale, nutritional yeast, salt, maybe some red pepper flakes- that's about it. So I knew I had to make them myself. 


What I really love about trying my hand at restaurant favorites is that you usually realize in the process how unhealthy the restaurant version is. This is what happened when I attempted to make kale chips at home. Though they turned out delicious, I realized just how much olive oil they must use in the packaged ones because I only used a misting of spray oil, and they were ten times lighter than those bought in store. 


I hesitate to even give a recipe because these were so ridiculously easy. They will definitely become a staple in my house because they are something nutritious and very low calorie to snack on. And they satisfy the same craving that chips do (at least for me), because they are crunchy and salty




Kale Chips
1 head kale (I used Dinosaur Kale, most should work)
3 tsp nutritional yeast
1 tsp red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste
Spray oil


Heat the oven to 300 degrees. The most time consuming part of this recipe is the separating of the kale. You must separate the kale leaves from the stems. The stems are tough and should not be eaten. This will only take a few minutes and you can do it in front of the TV or whatever. After you have separated the kale, wash and then roughly rip with hands into bite size pieces. Lay on a baking sheet, spritz with oil, sprinkle with nutritional yeast, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper and bake for 20 minutes or until dry and crispy. 


If you don't know what nutritional yeast is, don't substitute brewer's yeast, they are not the same thing. Nutritional yeast is a yummy seasoning used by vegans to imitate the flavor of cheese. Since it also has B12 in it, it's a useful and delicious product to have on hand. Here, it gives the kale a cheesy flavor. 


The calorie count here is negligible, so go ahead and eat the whole thing if you want! Kale is so good for you that any recipe that gets you to eat more of it is golden, if you ask me. 


You can eat these as is or crumble and sprinkle over salad or pasta or whatever. They work anywhere. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Current Obsession: Maria & Ricardo's Tortillas

One of my favorite things to make when I'm crunched for time is a delicious whole wheat tortilla stuffed with whatever I have in the fridge. Whether it be roasted vegetables, the remains of a salad or even just basic canned beans and avocado, a tortilla is the perfect way to make a meal out of leftover food


Obviously altered with Instagram.
However, some of the tortillas out there can really pack on the pounds. I've seen ones the size of a dinner plate and if flour-based (instead of corn), they can be more than 150 calories. 


The logo, so you can recognize them at the store.
So when I stumbled upon 'Maria and Ricardo's FiberRich Whole Wheat Tortillas' the other day at Whole Foods, I was excited and knew I'd found a new staple for my kitchen. 


At only 45 calories a piece, with 4 grams of protein, and zero sugar, they are the perfect healthy tortilla. I have been using them nonstop recently- for wrapping scrambled egg whites topped with some salsa, a Mexican take with refried beans, Daiya cheese and lettuce and even for making a low-calorie mini pizza.


The mini pizza was delicious! I spread some tomato sauce on the tortilla, topped with a few pieces of roasted garlic, red onion, Daiya cheese and popped it in the oven, at 450 degrees. After about 8 minutes the tortilla was firm and crispy and the cheese was melted. I added a bunch of arugula on top and it was perfection, and for only about 100 calories. 


My boyfriend's version. 


I definitely recommend these tortillas but as Maria & Ricardo's have a ton of different kinds make sure to pick up the whole wheat ones and the 6" ones, as they also have them in 10" and 12" sizes. 


Let me know if you come up with some fun ways to use these as well. I'm always looking for new ideas! 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

'Worth it Calories' & Weight Loss

One of the things that my friends ask me about most when I tell them I'm into nutrition is one 'easy to follow tip' they can implement immediately when it comes to weight loss. It usually goes something like this: 


Friend: "So you're into nutrition, that's awesome. I know that it's important to eat healthy and work out, but what do you think is the most important thing when it comes to losing weight?"
Me: "Decide what are your 'worth it calories' and get rid of the rest."


My mom struggled with her weight when she was younger, lost weight and has maintained her current weight for something like 20+ years. She is truly an inspiration to people of all ages, for many reasons. She eats lots of fruits and vegetables and really loves salads. She passed on many of her wonderful eating habits to me. One of the things she always says is, 'this is worth the calories' or 'these aren't worth it'. Now I am by no means perfect. I struggle with eating healthy and working out just like everyone else. But one thing I truly believe in is this philosophy. What does this mean? Well, decide what it is that you really truly love, eat it, but cut out what you don't care about. This is crucial. 


My 'worth it' chocolate. Photo credit.


Did you know we make over 150 food choices a day? Nonfat, whole or soy? Fries or a salad on the side? Ranch or balsamic? Cookie or carrot sticks? Soup or calamari? Iced tea or Frappuccino? We make so many food choices a day that it is exhausting. You might be able to resist the inter-office birthday cake, but by the time you leave work, head home and gear up to make dinner...you don't have the energy to not call for delivery. 


While planning is very important, I also believe you need to be real with yourself. I have some friends who say, 'I could never give up alcohol! That's why I can't diet'. Well, how 'bout you keep the alcohol but cut out the late-afternoon snack you don't care so much for? It's about compromising and making decisions that you can live with, not dieting


Amazing 8-grain 3-seed bread from The Greenmarket. 
Oftentimes we embark on a weight loss plan and find ourselves cutting out our favorite foods (I was not a fan of Atkins!), and before we know it, we've fallen off our diet and are feeling defeated. I think what works is keeping the things you really love. If you really do look at your diet, you might notice that there is a lot you eat that you don't care about. That mediocre pastry you had for breakfast cause you didn't have time to grab anything else? Ditch it! The stale bread you ate at a restaurant because you couldn't wait for your entree to arrive, skip it! These are changes we can live with. 


Did you know that your body metabolizes calories differently based on whether you 'feel bad' after you eat something? This blew my mind! I mean, literally, two women can eat the same thing, and if one ends her meal with self-loathing while the other says, 'mm! that was so worth it', the former will actually hold on to the calories more than the latter. So what does this mean? Eat what you like, enjoy it, and ditch the rest. 



What are my 'worth it' calories? Pasta, wine, really good bread and the occasional dark chocolate. I'm not a big desserts person and almost always prefer something salty. I try to snack on fruit if I want something sweet. But I do crave chocolate about once a month- and when I do, I eat the best I can find. This might sound pretentious or unrealistic and yes, it's something I still struggle with as well. But I'm trying. 


So tonight when I had a craving for chocolate, I imagined what kind it was exactly that I was craving (dark chocolate, with some sort of fruit and nuts) and I left my house, and went down to the market (Whole Foods, lucky me!) to get it. And I'll enjoy a few squares without feeling guilt. That to me is healthy eating I can get behind. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

No Oil Tomato Kale Soup

After the holidays it's always nice to get back to a more healthy eating plan. One of my favorite things to do to get back on track is to cook up a big pot of soup, as I've mentioned before. I have always been skeptical about cooking without oil, but my sister used to make this amazing tomato chickpea soup without any oil, if I remember correctly, and it always turned out amazing. If you add enough spices and simmer the soup for a good amount of time, the flavors develop just fine despite the omission of oil. 


I'm trying to eat more kale, but after a failed kale salad experience last week, I decided to stick to what I know works best: adding it to soup. Kale is great for you but can be tough raw, so simmering it in a soup works well. 


Oil would have added another 100 calories.
This recipe was inspired by one I saw on Runner's World the other day that Mark Bittman came up with. You can find that recipe here. The soup turned out yummy and for only 120 calories per serving, a nutritional powerhouse of a soup if you ask me. 


Also, I wanted to thank all of you who have recently started visiting my website. Thanks to my friends and family for sharing the link; I broke another record yesterday for visitors. You guys really seem to like stuffing! 


No Oil Tomato Kale Soup
1 head kale, deveined and chopped* 
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 onion, chopped
1 can garbanzo beans
1 can fire-roasted tomatoes
1/2 veggie chicken bouillon cube
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon thyme or fresh thyme (which I happened to have)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (less if you don't like spiciness)
salt and pepper to taste
avocado and nutritional yeast to garnish


Directions: Saute the onions in water until soft. Add the garlic and continue sauteeing until fragrant. Add the spices and salt and pepper. Add the tomatoes and 4 cups water. Bring to a boil. Add the kale and garbanzo beans and simmer for at least a half hour. Garnish with avocado and nutritional yeast or cheese. 


*Deveining kale consists of ripping the leaves away from the tough stem. This step is crucial as the stem is really tough and shouldn't be eaten. 


Nutritional Info:
Servings per soup: 6
Calories per serving 119
Fat: 1.2g
Carbs: 23.5g
Protein: 5.6g
* Calorie count doesn't include garnishes. 

About Me

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Istanbul, Turkey
Cookbooks and Cake is a blog about healthy cooking and feeling good from within. I'm very interested in disease prevention through diet and believe vegetarianism is a great way to be healthy and prevent disease. I also, however, love to bake, so you'll find delicious homemade treats on here as well. Being that I am looking to get a degree in Clinical Nutrition, I will also write about studies in nutrition that I find interesting. Enjoy!

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