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?

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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.

Be sure to check out my post on Hollaback Health for tips on writing shorter blog posts! If you’ve never visited HBH, it’s a great resource for bloggers — it’s worth your time to check out the older posts, too.

It is no secret that I have a thing for pizza. I make our weekly pizza from scratch every Friday. And remember the story about the time the pizza guy came to my apartment when I hadn’t called for a delivery? He was so used to coming to my place (and I lived alone) that he knocked on my door on auto-pilot, when a neighbor had actually called for a pizza.

So it was no surprise that our friends Emily and Bob wanted to introduce us to what they consider to be the best pizza in Jacksonville, at Picasso’s on the Southside. They told us about the St. Louis-style pizza and said it was absolutely a must-try.

From the menu:

This style of pizza has been voted “best in St. Louis” every year for over 40 years. It has a very thin crust and a special blend of cheeses that mixes with our homemade tomato sauce and creates a unique cheesy, creamy base for this pizza. The emphasis is on the taste and quality of each and every ingredient you select to put on it. It is unlike any pizza you have ever tasted.

We ordered the meatball pizza on the St. Louis crust.

Just know that the photo does not do this pizza justice, and that every word of the menu description is accurate. It was amazing! Fiance and I agreed that we couldn’t ever go to Picasso’s and not get the St. Louis pizza.

We also tried the New York style crust. From the menu:

Straight out of Manhattan. Our super-hot brick oven produces a bottom crust that’s not too thick or too thin but has a nice crunch with each bite. We load it with plenty of high-quality cheese, pile on your choice of toppings, and paint the edge with garlic butter as it comes out of the oven to complete the perfect “Big Apple” experience.

I really, really liked this crust, too, but I wasn’t wild about the fried eggplant topping. The New York style is great, but I really recommend the St. Louis.

We couldn’t resist splitting another St. Louis specialty for dessert: gooey butter cake.

It’s gooey, it’s buttery and sugary, but it’s not very cakey. I’ll just sum it up as delicious.

The decor at Picasso’s added to the restaurant’s laid-back, funky feel, and I liked the giant wooden booth — it was really comfortable, especially for just four people. My only complaint would be that the server was a little flakey, but it was a busy night. I’m sure we’ll be back every now and then — when we just can’t fight the craving for that cheese-y, crispy St. Louis crust anymore.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my name. Our wedding date is fast approaching, and I have planned to take my fiance’s last name since we got engaged.  I am not hyphenating, I am not going to use my maiden name as my middle name, and no, I will not put my maiden name in parentheses on Facebook.

Of course, 99.9 percent of the reason behind this is that I am thrilled to become fiance’s wife and start our married life together. But the other .1 percent is because I feel like my maiden name is forever tied to Before Ashley. I introduce myself on the phone using my full name several times a day, and when I do, it makes me think of myself pre-weight loss.

From left are my cousin Jamie, her stepdaughter, cousin Jessie, me and my sister, Meghann. I believe this was taken right after I graduated from high school.

I will be the first to admit it sounds stupid. After all, Maiden Name Ashley is the one who took the initiative to lose weight, has lost more than 100 pounds, ran a 10K. and obviously, is the girl to whom fiance proposed.  And I don’t want you to think I am harboring some ill will complex about my Before self. I remember nodding along as I read Bridget’s post that we should be kind to our before selves.

I would guess I was about 15 in this photo. When I say my full name out loud, this is who I picture. Not the blonde I see in the mirror, whose headshot appears to the right of this post. It’s a very odd experience.

As much as I have written about weight loss since starting this blog in March 2009, I still don’t have the words to describe what it feels like to physically transform yourself. I think that perhaps my experience has been different than some others because I was never the shy fat girl. I have always been an outgoing, opinionated individual. I can’t relate to the stories of staying home and eating my feelings, because I never did. I had the time of my life in college, weighing in at 300 pounds. I am the same person I was prior to May 2005, albeit more energetic. From my own experience and that of a few others I know, the person who’s lost weight doesn’t change that much. It’s the people around you who change their perception of the After You.

The thing is, I know who I am, and I am that person no matter what clothes size I wear or whether there’s a ring on my finger. But some crazy part of my mind links my maiden name to those old size 24Ws … which is why I’m more than happy to leave it behind.

On Saturday, fiance and I ventured over the state line to St. Marys, Ga., where I ran a 5K race. Proceeds went to the local Kiwanis.

In this photo I am approaching the finish line, but I am really running for the car so we can get out of St. Marys and back on the interstate. Everyone was really friendly, but when you ask locals for breakfast recommendations and they answer with “Cracker Barrel,” run for the hills. One of the reasons I like doing races in nearby small towns is that you can usually find some out-of-the-way place to eat, a place you’d never know existed otherwise.

As for the race itself, it was definitely not my best effort. I finished in 35:30, a time that I would find embarassing, had I not put forth so little effort. That’s what, an 11:30 or 11:45 pace? I don’t know, and the truth is, I don’t really care. I did sprint to the finish, but that’s only because I’d have never lived it down if I’d been beaten by the two women twice my age who’d been breathing down my neck the whole time. I signed up for this race right after my 10K on Sept. 4, but since then, I’ve taken up with an old flame: the gym.

When I signed up for my gym membership at the end of August, it was really for cross training as I started to prepare for a half marathon — or so I thought. Then I started going to group fitness classes that somehow manage to combine cardio and strength in one sweat-soaked hour, leaving you sore for two days afterward. I gave Spinning a try and really, really love it.

My wedding gown will arrive Dec. 14, and the big day itself is fast approaching. I am going from working part time to full time, we have a new dog, and my time is precious. I don’t just love how group fitness and Spinning make me feel; I love how efficient they are. They are the most bang for your calorie-burning buck, so to speak. I’m already seeing some small changes from the classes.

Running helps me maintain my weight, but it is no longer helping me to lose weight. I would have to run up hills (which do not exist in Florida) or really pick up my pace (no) to burn the same calories I do at these classes.

 I like long runs, and I like running races. But I don’t like short runs on weekdays. For the same amount of time I put into getting ready for a weekday run, running, and then cooling down, I can go to Spinning or Body Pump and feel like I’ve genuinely worked out. When I’m running, I just feel sweaty, and then I feel hungry all day, which is not conducive to weight loss at all.  

There’s also the risk of injury. After my 10K, I could hear my knees clicking when I went up and down the stairs, and I’d think what a shame it would be to have freed my joints from their 300-pound prison, only to injure them by running. Running is really, really hard on the body.

So, I sat down and worked out a whole new exercise regimen for each week, and it does not include running. It includes Spinning, group fitness classes, and a ton of dog walking (if I ever need to get pumped to walk Hector, I’ll just re-read Rachel’s Walking > Running post).

I know how important it is to re-vamp your workout routine from time to time, and clearly it was time for a change. I put a lot of time and effort into the Couch to 5K program and training for my 10K, but my goals are very different now. My wedding dress is more motivation than any finish line.

How often do you re-vamp your exercise routines?

The second challenge in Foodbuzz’s Project Food Blog contest asks bloggers to tackle a classic dish from another culture: “an ethnic classic that is outside your comfort zone.”

After some thought, I went in search of classic Brazilian recipes, in honor of my friend Sam, who is teaching at an international academy in Brasilia. Sam and I have been friends since college; in 2006, he drove six hours to see me graduate.

May 2006

And we saw each other roughly every six months after I graduated, when he was working as a teacher in Maryland and I was a reporter in Pennsylvania. He would always stop at my place for a few days on his summer and winter tours of western Pennsylvania.

Dec. 31, 2009

So, if Sam could step so far enough outside his comfort zone to live in Brazil, then it was the least I could do to tackle a Brazilian dish. (Although to be fair, I don’t know if anything is outside Sam’s comfort zone — he once flew to Iceland by himself on a whim.) I read through several recipes for both entrees and desserts and decided on Brazilian Orange-Flavored Flan from Emeril Lagasse.

I chose flan because I knew it wasn’t a dessert I could bluff my way through. For the flan to set up correctly, all of my measurements would have to be exact (none of the “a pinch here, a dash there” from my usual cooking and baking methods) and I would have to pay close attention to the recipe’s directions (I rarely do).

I set the sugar, water and lemon juice over medium heat and anxiously waited for it to turn amber. The recipe said not to stir but to swirl the pan occasionally.

Yay! It’s working! Attempting flan made me nervous. I was so relieved when the sugar mixture caramelized. I poured it into the bottom of cake pan to cool and harden. (The recipe calls for a 10-inch pan; I believe mine is 9 inches.)

Then I beat together the remaining ingredients: sweet condensed milk, milk, orange juice, six large eggs and orange zest.

Some of the other flan recipes I read had called for whole milk; we drink 1 percent, so I used a half cup of 1 percent and half a cup of cream (which was left over from my honey nougat ice cream, and I haven’t been able to find another use for it). This recipe also said to use a stand mixer with a whip attachment, but I don’t own one (yet — hello, wedding registry) so I used my regular ol’ hand mixer.

I poured the liquid custard into the pan with the caramel on the bottom, then placed it inside another pan with hot water about half way up the sides of the flan pan.

Then the flan had to bake at 300 F for 90 minutes. Usually when I bake, I open the oven door every 10 minutes to check in and poke at whatever I’m making. It drives fiance nuts because it is so inefficient and lets so much heat escape. I decided to sit back and be patient with the flan and didn’t even open the oven until an hour had gone by.

When it emerged from the oven appearing flan-like, I was relieved.

Then, the flan went into the refrigerator overnight to set up. I was not looking forward to trying to coax it out of the pan. I had visions of a big, sticky mess, with half the flan clinging to the pan and the other a runny mess on the plate.

Thankfully, that didn’t happen. As my punster fiance said, “It’s flan-tastic!” (Heh, heh.)

I think this would be an excellent dish to make for company,  especially now that I am over the intimidation factor. I really enjoyed the orange flavor; most of the time, I don’t care for flan because you can taste the egg and sugar so clearly, but the orange juice and zest really puts a whole different spin on it.

To vote for my entry in Round 2 of Project Food Blog, go here. Voting will officially open Monday, Sept. 27. Thank you for your support!

I am a member of Foodbuzz’s Featured Publisher program and have decided to participate in Foodbuzz’s Project Food Blog contest. The contest is a series of 10 challenges, with eliminations after each round.

The first challenge asks participants to define themselves a food blogger: What makes your blog unique?

Preparing our first Easter dinner, April 2010

Fashionably Fit is unique because I talk about cooking and baking  from the perspective of someone who lost 120 pounds — and gained a whole new perspective on food in the process. When I weighed 300 pounds, I really didn’t take much pleasure in food. I certainly didn’t appreciate good food the way I do now. I just ate a lot of processed foods — Doritos, bagels, snack cakes and boxed dinners. My food had to be cheap, easy to prepare and tasty!

I never would have guessed that healthy food could also be cheap, easy and delicious.

Homemade zucchini pizza

I think that a lot of obese people get hung up on the idea that healthy food is really expensive and takes a long time to prepare. I started my blog to show people who were struggling with their weight that they didn’t have to sacrifice taste to eat healthfully. Losing weight is not about eating bland, tasteless food substitutes stuffed with artificial ingredients; it’s about learning to enjoy proper portions of real, whole foods.

Where I once zapped my dinner in the microwave for two minutes, I now spend time with the food and ingredients, creating a meal that is more than nourishment for my fiance and me; it’s an enjoyable experience that we share — one that I look forward to every night.

Black bean enchiladas

Through sharing simple, healthy recipes, I hope to inspire others to take control of their eating habits and lifestyles. When I started to lose weight, I was completely helpless in the kitchen; now, I’m always looking for new recipes to try. Learning to cook is a big part of why I’ve succeeded at weight loss and maintenance, and I love showing others just how simple it is to eat healthfully.

Voting for Project Food Blog begins Monday, Sept. 20; to vote for me, visit my profile here.

I was a tad hesitant to share our foodie adventures in St. Augustine on the blog. Fashionably Fit is not just a food blog; it is a weight loss blog, and the majority of my readers do not come here for photos of cupcake shops, ricotta-stuffed crepes and creamy soups. They want to know how I lost 120 pounds and how I am working at keeping it off, and I take that seriously. When I was obese I was so curious about what I perceived as this other world to which thin people belonged and what made them different from me.

My visions of that thin world included carrot sticks for dinner and punishing, workouts. In the last five years I have learned that that is not what weight loss and maintenance are about; it’s about balance and moderation, but I am not going to bore you with rambles about moderation, because as I’ve written before, I believe many people have a very skewed idea of what moderation actually is

I am also not going to wax philosophic about “squeezing in exercise on vacation”! You know this. Every fat person knows this, because they are the ones who religiously read the tips in Self and Fitness and Shape and Reader’s Digest and commit them to memory. But for the record, that’s true. We visited St. Augustine on a Saturday; I ran a treadmill 5K on Friday that was pretty speedy for me, and I went to Spinning on Sunday.

The key to a daylong (or weekend-long or weeklong) indulgence is not in ramping up your workouts or eat light before and after, although those are good ideas. The key is that you don’t fall into an all-or-nothing mentality, which is what I think makes or break weight loss for a lot of people. You can’t let the one day become a slippery slope — first the day of indulgences, then you feel sluggish the next day so you skip your workout, then you’re craving another cupcake, etc. And then you’re giving up, pulling on the bigger clothes you’d pushed to the back of the closet.

Five years into my weight loss, I am at a place where it is unnatural for me to not exercise and to eat big indulgent meals and rich snacks between those meals. It was the most natural thing in the world for me to get up the next day and head to the gym. But obviously, that wasn’t always the case, and I am not far enough removed from my previous lifestyle to forget what it was like.

Don’t view the indulgence or the cheat day or the slip-up or whatever you what to call it as a major failure or falling off the wagon, because the treats are part of weight loss and healthy living. If you get too caught up in that, you won’t be able to keep moving forward in your weight loss. That is what separates the “biggest losers” from the non-losers: The ability to keep moving forward.




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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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