First of all, this isn’t a sob story. I’m not going to sit here and write about how I used to be a chubby, picked-on ugly ducking who transformed into a swan. Truth be told, I wasn’t picked on. I always had plenty of friends and family who didn’t really care if I was a little fluffier than your average kid. They wanted to be around me anyway. But the chubby part, that happens to be true. You’ll never catch me using the “F” word. As “fat” as I might feel on my worst day, I don’t support using adjectives that are designed to make the recipient feel bad about themselves, even If that recipient is yours truly. That’s not how I roll.
I don’t think my extra bit of “meat” really started bothering me until high school. Even then, it didn’t stop me from much. I had an adoring boyfriend (who I later married) and I excelled in school. But, I did start to feel the pressure of looking like your typical Barbie Doll high school kid and gradually became more and more unhappy and withdrawn. A vicious cycle of bruised self esteem and indulgent overeating had begun. *See extreme grumpy face below.
It wasn’t until college that I decided to change my life; new school, fresh start. I signed up for Weight Watchers with Mom as my sidekick and we were down right religious about following the program. We must have driven the rest of the family bonkers with our compulsive food measuring and journal writing. It took an entire year, but I managed to lose almost 75 pounds; all on my own with sheer willpower to thank. I could finally go shopping with my friends at the mall. I could finally fit in regular clothes. I cut my hair and changed my attitude. I walked a little taller and smiled a little brighter. People definitely took notice. *Please note a much happier face follows.
I attribute my entire personality to who I became that year. I was finally uninhibited by self hate and could be who I wanted to be. I will argue with ANYONE who thinks that people can’t change. Every day is a new opportunity to reinvent yourself. I’ve managed to keep the weight off for almost ten years, but not without a struggle. I recently found out that I suffer from a blood sugar condition that requires taking medication twice a day. It felt like another huge life setback.
So, I’ve abandoned the confines of a “diet” and adapted my entire lifestyle. I love food! I’m not about to eat those wretched frozen diet meals or munch on carrot sticks 24/7! That’s just not living! Above all, I love to cook. I found myself saying “I can diet this up!” ALL the time. That’s where the Diet It Up concept began. By subbing out a few ingredients or changing a cooking method you can really slim down a meal. “Dieters” can still cook and eat delicious food. It may sound simple, but it works.
This past weekend I made a huge pot of TOMATO SOUP WITH ASIAGO CHEESE CROUTONS. The air was breezy and cool and I wanted a little comfort food to warm up to. Tomato soup is a classic. But old fashioned Campbell’s canned tomato contains high fructose corn syrup (my blood sugar enemy) along with a hefty serving of salt. By making the soup at home, you can swap out a bit of brown sugar for the corn syrup. I add just enough to balance out the acidity of the tomatoes. You can also control how much salt to add.
I use canned tomatoes for this recipe. I finally broke down and bought the San Marzano crushed tomatoes from Whole Foods for almost $4 per can. I was skeptical, but they were well worth it. They actually tasted richer and more “tomato-y” than supermarket brands. By adding a handful of fresh basil and a sprinkle of crushed red pepper (I like it spicy), you gain back the freshness factor that may have been lost in the can. There’s no butter or cream in this recipe, just simmered down vegetables pureed to a silky smooth texture.
The most logical pairing for tomato soup is grilled cheese. Oozy, melted cheese nestled between two slices of white bread. I was certainly tempted. But, I opted for croutons instead. I baked-up some day-old whole wheat ciabatta and gave the croutons a light dusting of grated asiago cheese. The crunchiness of the croutons and subtle saltiness of the cheese was just what I was looking for without the overwhelming calorie investment.
I think I deserve a shot at this Project Food Blog Contest. To me, cooking is an art. It’s much easier for an artist to work with a full fat palette. It’s a cinch to create a delicious dish using the richest, most flavorful ingredients. Healthy cooking is like painting with only half the color wheel. It’s infinitely more challenging to take fewer, simpler ingredients and still make them shine. My food shines. I’m proud of my work. People enjoy what I create and I can only hope they like hearing what I have to say too. I want to inspire people to change how they feel about “diet food.” Cooking a great meal or two along the way is simply icing on the cake (or at least the cupcake).
* Check out FoodBuzz to vote for me (because I like winning things)! Voting starts Sept. 20th.