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Soup can be tricky, especially if you’re trying to lose weight. There are so many delicious — and actually really simple — recipes out there, but they’re not always conducive to weight loss.

But it can be filling — it just seems to take up so much room in my stomach. Soup is one of my favorite cold-weather meals, and much to my surprise, my first Floridian winter has been cold enough to make me crave a good, hot bowl of soup. The black bean soup from the November issue of Cooking Light really hit the spot.

Black bean soup is one of those things I always to try at restaurants, but I can never get past the visual of the murky soup with the lump black beans. But these ingredients were all things I like, and I figured I’d really like it once it was pureed.

Actually, I loved it.

I followed the Cooking Light recipe, but I did not top it with chopped boiled eggs (that just did not sound appealing to me) and I used canned black beans that I rinsed (the recipe calls for dry beans).

Pureeing hot soup in the blender was tricky, because it recommends you put a towel over the blender’s opening. I had visions of my kitchen walls coated in brown goo, so I left the lid on, but the liquid did, in fact, overflow, because the steam couldn’t escape. This part of the recipe means this is a weekend or make-ahead meal for me, but it’s worth the time.

For some crunch, I counted out a serving of blue corn chips (I like the ones from Target’s Archer Farms house brand, with flax seeds in them).

A super cute serving vessel is optional, of course.

As someone who blogs about weight loss, I feel like I have to say something about New Year’s resolutions, since so many of them are geared toward getting in shape.

I think making a list of resolutions is a great step to take, whether it’s Jan. 1 or May 25 (which is the date I joined a gym in 2005, weighing 309 pounds). I had made several New Year’s resolutions to lose weight prior to that, but I never made another after. And why would I? I knew at that time that it was for good — something I was committed to for the rest of my life, every day, every choice.

If I could bottle and sell whatever hit me five and a half years ago (!) I could make a killing, huh?

I will tell you that I didn’t write out any sort of plan for my weight loss; I simply decided to eat less, move more, and it evolved from there, as I learned more about nutrition and discovered I have a passion for fitness. The lists I tend to make are of the daily to-do variety, not long-term goals.

If you’ve resolved to lose weight, my advice to you is this: Start now. I don’t care if you had a box of Little Debbies for breakfast or if you just downed a super-size order of fries. It starts right this second, with the next thing you put in your mouth and your next opportunity to get moving. Seriously, just do it. You’ll figure out what works for you as you go along.

Which, I happen to think, is pretty good advice for any resolution, plan, dream, goal and, well, life in general.

It works for us, anyway.

It’s a jungle forest out there!

Last week, we hit up IKEA and I could not resist the wildlife cookie cutters. I had tried my hand at Eat, Live, Run’s old-fashioned gingerbread men the week before, and they were delicious, but I made them too thick and they appeared to have suffered molasses-dripping gunshot wounds. I knew the little animal shapes would be perfect for the cookies I was planning to make and send to family in Pennsylvania.

This time, I rolled them out nice and thin, and the end result was much better. But when you roll your dough out super thin, it creates a ton of cookies, so a lot of them ended up being squirrels because it was the easiest shape to use.

The moose were by far my favorites, though.

Holiday weight gain

I’m not going to tell you how to avoid gaining weight this time of year. Because you already know. Eat an apple before you go to the party, squeeze in extra minutes on the elliptical, take the stairs, choose the cocktail or dessert, but never both.

I knew those tips verbatim when I weighed 300 pounds, and I think most fat people do. They devour the “avoiding weight gain” features plastered across magazines, newspapers, blogs and morning talk shows, mentally archiving the tips but never actually doing any of them.

At least,  I didn’t.

I will tell you that my usual holiday strategy was to eat whatever I wanted — within reason. Have a cookie, try that dip, but don’t go nuts. There was the occasional cheese-and-cracker bender, for sure, but I never gave it much thought. It’s life. It happens.

Until this year.

I’m not sure if it’s the wedding (just more than six months away!) or the fact that I’ve started seeing a registered dietitian, but I am much more aware of everything I’m putting into my mouth. Because my RD is reinforcing what I already know: You can eat this stuff and maintain your weight, but you can’t eat it and continue to lose.

I know it’s the holidays. I know it’s important to treat yourself. I know indulgences are OK.

I also know that I want to lose more weight. And I know that these fabulous cookies, cocktails, dips and spreads will be around forever, but I want to lose weight now. So this year, I am much more conscious of exactly which treats I’m eating, and I am eating far fewer than any other holiday since 2005, when I started to lose weight.

It’s not easy, but it’s not as difficult as I thought it would be. I’ve spent the past five and a half years learning to be conscious of everything I put in my mouth.

And on that note, be sure to visit Bess’ post on Hollaback Health: Driven to Drink … By Health Magazines’ Holiday Issues. I’ll raise my glass to that! (If you missed it, my latest Hollaback Health post was Monday: Putting a Cap on Your Recaps.)

Where do some of the best recipes come from?

I started paying attention to “back of the box” recipes when I covered the baking contests Hershey’s sponsors at the Pennsylvania Farm Show each year. Hershey’s has a ton of awesome recipes on their website, like the peanut butter paisley brownies I make for special occassions.

Last week, it was my turn to bring the goods for our weekly staff meeting, and I decided to make muffins. When I pulled out the flour to make another recipe I found online, I saw the sour cream blueberry muffin recipe on the side of the bag. I decided to swap Greek yogurt for the sour cream and chocolate chips for the blueberries and … wow. I had half of one when it came out of the oven, then took the rest to work and didn’t have any more.

But then I couldn’t stop thinking about them, and it was the weekend, and …

I tend to beat the bejeezus out of any sort of dough or batter, but you can’t do that with muffins. I combined the ingredients until everything was just wet.

And then this emerged from the oven.

When I made them for us, I reduced the sugar to 2/3 cup. I like muffins to taste like muffins, not naked cupcakes.

Hello Kitty cupcake wrappers are optional.

Printable recipe

A few weeks ago, I picked up a few old cookbooks at an estate sale — one was compiled by members of a church in 1985, and the other is the 1973 edition of “What’s Cooking, Doc?” which was put together the Florida Medical Association’s women’s auxiliary — and there are so many old-fashioned Southern recipes in them, and none of them are complicated.  A former editor recently sent me that newspaper’s holiday recipe insert, and there are some great ideas in it, too.

I wouldn’t make most of the dishes for us for a regular weeknight meal, but you can’t beat these simple old recipes if you’re entertaining, cooking for a potluck, etc.

What’s your favorite back-of-the-box recipe?

Birthdays are a Big Deal in this house.

Actually, I don’t celebrate birthdays as much as birth months. I enjoy birthdays so much that one of my top picks on our wedding registry is the Candles and Confetti musical stand and matching dessert plates.

Photos from bedbathandbeyond.com

Fiance actually put up a fight when I added these to the registry! Even if we have two “offspring,” as he expressed in front of the sales girl, we’d only use them four times a year. It was frivolous, he argued. I ignored him and told the girl to add them. I think they’re special pieces that will be such a sweet touch to birthday celebrations.

For fiance’s birthday, which always falls on or around Thanksgiving, I decided to make a chocolate pumpkin marble cake from Back to the Cutting Board. I had toyed with a couple different ideas: Toblerone cake? Classic yellow birthday cake with chocolate icing? But this one seemed just seemed unexpected, and we both love pumpkin.

In keeping with birthday tradition, he picked out the accompanying ice cream: Cappucino chocolate chip gelati, which weirdly went really well with the cake.

Birthday place setting.

I’m already cruising recipes for next year’s birthday — which will taste even sweeter on the (contested) birthday china.

My first Thanksgiving dinner was a success!

But why shouldn’t it have been? A 7-pound turkey breast is not particularly difficult to cook, and the roaster oven my mom sent us earlier this year made the task even easier. A good rubdown with butter and an assortment of spices and the turkey was taken care of.

The man of the house carved the turkey and did the stuff I didn’t want to do, like wash out the roaster before its inaugural use. (I promise this is not product placement for Glad cling wrap, just lazy photography.)

I know I wrote that I was so excited to put my own spin on the Thanksgiving classics, but I didn’t get too creative.

I considered a couple different takes on sweet potatoes, but we eat them year-round and never do we eat them candied with melted marshmallows on top, and the classic dish sounded too good to pass up. I used the Cooking Light recipe for classic sweet potato casserole, which simply uses less butter and brown sugar than a traditional recipe might. I don’t believe in “diet foods,” especially at holidays, but if you can lighten something without ever tasting the difference, why wouldn’t you? Fiance said he never would have known this is a light dish, and I don’t think anyone would ever guess. We loved this so much I’m already planning to make it for Christmas.

Sausage stuffing was a new dish for both of us. I knew that fiance wasn’t wild about the idea, but I was really into trying it, so he humored me, and we both enjoyed it. I used this recipe as a base and instead of butter used boxed chicken broth that was pre-doctored with white wine and herbs. Instead of poultry seasoning, I used a Greek spice blend. Honestly, the meatiness does not jump out at you; the hot Italian sausage I used enhanced the flavor and texture of classic stuffing.

I made the stuffing the night before and let it warm to room temperature before popping it into the oven on Thanksgiving Day. So easy! I think this will be my go-to stuffing.

I made mashed potatoes, too, but they were nothing noteworthy and I got nervous that, combined with the stuffing, it would be too much starch and I would have a bad reaction, because I take metformin for insulin resistance. So I skipped them.

As it was our first Thanksgiving as just the two of us, so we felt the need to document the day with  ’round-the-dinner table shots.

In the interest of full disclosure, I had to supplement the very few drippings I got from the turkey breast with gravy from a jar, but I had filled the bottom of the roaster with onionss, so the drippings and onions jazzed up the jarred stuff. But other than that, there was nothing on our table that came pre-packaged.

While we both enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner, it was dessert that really stole the show.

Martha Stewart’s pumpkin cheesecake. I followed the advice of one person who commented on the recipe on marthastewart.com and crushed gingersnaps to make the crust. You can see where one part of the cheesecake stuck to the pan, but I was proud that there were no cracks in the top and that it exited the springform pan mostly unscathed.

As I uploaded our Thanksgiving photos, I started to think that I should have put together some sort of centerpiece and that I should have picked up some pretty serving dishes, but honestly, I would not change one thing about our Thanksgiving. It was a calm, relaxed, fun day. The sun was shining and I cooked our meal in a dress with the back door open, and later, fiance was in such a good mood/food coma that he sat through one and a half Thanksgiving episodes of “Roseanne.”

Even the puggle took a moment to count his blessings, over special doggie ice cream.

That’s his sock monkey in the background. It has since lost two limbs and its tail.

What was the highlight of your Thanksgiving?

When I sit down to plan our meals for the week, I’ll say to fiance, “What are you in the mood for this week?”

And he’ll say something along the lines of “Anything, really.”

So I try again: “Are you craving anything? Something we haven’t had in awhile?”

And he’ll shrug and say everything I make is good, so whatever I come up with is A-OK with him.

Two words: Cop. Out.

For me, the most stressful part of cooking is planning recipes and a subsequent grocery list for the week. I’ve posted tips about how I get through it , but there are some weeks I want to hurl my notepad into the wall and say, “Guess what? Mexican take-out for EVERY MEAL!”

I keep coming back to one dish, and I probably make it every other week: white chicken chili.

I actually used to make this in Pennsylvania, but I would buy the McCormick’s spice packet. It was delicious, but it always felt like cheating. So I was thrilled to stumble on Creamy White Chicken Chili from Eat, Live, Run. I use ground turkey because it’s faster and Greek yogurt instead of sour cream, but it’s such a simple, delicious recipe. I make it from memory now.

I hesitate every time I pencil the chili into our meal plan because I don’t want to fall into that classic working woman trap of seven or eight meals in rotation. I can see how and why it happens, but I enjoy cooking and want to keep pushing myself to experiment.

Do you have a go-to weeknight meal? How often do you have it?

I was flipping through magazines at the eye doctor this weekend when I had one of those moments when I thought my heart might explode with the  joy of pure anticipation.  And for once, it wasn’t a bridal magazine.

It was Food Network Magazine’s Thanksgiving issue and … oh. my. God. Between the 50 variations on a classic stuffing recipe and a spicy twist on mashed sweet potatoes, I was beside myself. This is the first year I’m cooking Thanksgiving dinner, and I couldn’t be more excited.

Last year, I helped my mom make Thanksgiving dinner, and I had some ideas, but she really wanted to stick with traditional dishes, so we did.

It’s just going to be the two of us for Thanksgiving dinner, and though I’d love to be cooking for a crowd, maybe it’s best that it’s just us for my first solo shot at Turkey Day. If I had impatient, picky eaters interfering with the zen of my cooking, it wouldn’t end well, because I don’t get flustered. I get mad. Nobody likes an enraged hostess.

So far, the only dish I’ve committed to is Martha’s pumpkin cheesecake for dessert. I’m fairly sure we’ll go with a turkey breast over a whole turkey, but it’ll have to be a large one, because I love turkey. While I’m tempted by the sausage-based stuffing (mmm … meat with a side of meat), I’d also like to try my grandma’s stuffing ball recipe, but I’m afraid it won’t taste like the ones she makes and I’ll be disappointed. There are so many twists on sweet potato casserole, but the classic version is so good, too.

I also need to shop around for some new placemats; fiance had these hideous plastic IKEA ones, and while I should be gratefeul a single dude even had placemats, they’re just not me. I spent 2 1/2 years as a sales girl at Pier1 and have an unabashed love for chic table settings. Unfortunately I’m also a messy eater, so I’m in the market for easy-to-clean chic. I’ve been looking in stores and online, like at CSN Stores — they have just about everything a home needs, from the chic table settings to bathroom cabinets.

But the cooking fun (and I am sincere in typing that) doesn’t end on Thanksgiving; fiance’s birthday is Black Friday. Last year, it fell on Thanksgiving, and I got him a pumpkin ice cream cake from DQ. It felt lame getting a store-bought cake, but our time was so limited that there wasn’t any other choice. 

This year, though, I’m making his cake from scratch. As all birthday cakes — and good meals — should be made.

Tell me about the first Thanksgiving dinner you prepared. Was there a major kitchen mishap? Epic dinner table drama?

I can tell you that never once did I think of food as a creative outlet when I weighed 300 pounds. Cooking took too long and was too complicated; I needed instant gratification — pizza delivery, fast food drive-thrus, frozen onion rings. Baking seemed kind of silly when I could go to the store and buy a package of Swiss Cake Rolls or Zebra Cakes or my all-time favorites, those fudge-y chocolate brownies with rainbow chips — I think their proper name is Cosmic Brownies.

I wonder how much Little Debbie’s sales have fallen since the beginning of my weight loss.

But anyway,  it’s still a new feeling when I have that urge to get in the kitchen and make stuff. Not only to feed us, but also to admire the way ingredients come together.

Even though I’ve been making our pizza from scratch for some time, I still enjoy the process of mixing the dough, kneading the dough, letting it rise and rolling it out.

Nothing beats the fact that this started with my own two hands dipping my measuring cup into the flour.

Except, maybe cookies fresh from the oven.

I had pretty much stopped baking this summer because I was only working part time and was at home for most of the day.  It was too easy to nibble here and nibble there, and the next thing you know, half the batch is gone. Now that I’m working full time, my cookie exposure is limited, so it’s OK to have them in the house again.

In the foreground are sugar cookies with rainbow sprinkles, from this recipe. Unfortunately, I only had about half the all-purpose flour necessary, so I substituted with cake flour. Not a total disaster but they do not have the texture of traditional sugar cookies (well, duh). They’re, uh, more cake-y. Duh.

Pumpkin chocolate chip cookies from Joy the Baker.

All of this kitchen creativity makes me wish I could sew, if only so I could make homemade costumes for the puggle.

Hector likes dressing up. When we brought home his costume, he grabbed it in his mouth and ran around the house with it. I put it on him, and he wore it all night.

Tell me about your latest kitchen creation.




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I'm a bride-to-be who's lost 120 pounds -- and gained a whole new perspective on food and a passion for fitness! My ego would like to think I'm the Carrie Bradshaw of weight loss, but really, I'm just another former fat girl with too much to say.

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