Too Much Self Quantifying

I think I’m going to take a break from for a while. Its an incredibly handy tool for watching calories but I think it also feeds into some really bad habits for me. Specifically, when I find myself at a serious calorie deficiency (whether real or not- you can’t really trust the calorie counts you get on mfp, though its as good as any), I quickly find myself headed down the slippery slope of indulging. And I never make up those calories in healthy food- its sugary stuff, clif bars, builder’s bars and the like. Soon enough I’m ignoring myfitnesspal and avoiding watching what I eat.

I’m going back to sensible portions and exercise, I’m avoiding super-deep calorie counting for now, and hoepfully it’ll have a positive outcome.

Also, hello blog.

Bistro 19

Tonight was date night and we had a chance to visit Bistro 19 in Mt. Lebanon.  To sum it up, upscale suburban?  The menu was decent enough but there seems to be no real focus.  Some chicken, some veal, some fish, a …southwestern barbecue salad?  We split a pear and plum salad that had candied walnuts and blue cheese and it was pretty good, though I would have liked a bit of oil and vinegar to sop up with the dry bread they gave us.  My almond chicken with brie sauce and risotto was quite good, but came with the saltiest side of spinach I’ve ever eaten.  Dawn had the Bistro burger, which was a decent size and overall a nice burger.  Wine doesn’t really interest us and that is one of their pitches so I guess we can’t say we have a complete picture.  For the price, I can’t say it was completely worth it.

Dinner Time

Sooooooo we tried to go out to dinner with Max tonight. For the first time, just Mom and Dad and Baby went out to El Campesino and we assumed, incorrectly, that Max would be well behaved.  Usually when we eat dinner we keep him occupied with a biscuit and some toys and he’ll keep more or less quiet while we quickly scarf down our food.  And usually when we go out for whatever reason he is too distracted to get upset.  Perhaps because it was just the three of us tonight, or perhaps he’s grown out of it, he basically started yelling as soon as we stopped paying attention to him.  I vowed not to be “that family” that brings out a whiney baby to dinner and keeps everyone else from enjoying their meal, but tonight I broke that vow.  Thankfully it was good friday and the place was basically empty.  Maybe we’ll wait a few more years.

Winter Weight Gain

I stepped on the scale today and was pretty dismayed at what I saw.  It wasn’t unexpected- between bouts of illness and Max keeping us up at night, I’ve had a lot of trouble getting back into any kind of routine- exercise or otherwise.  I’ve also pretty much completely reverted to my old bad habits, but with the added negative of bingeing on carbs.  I’ve always loved sugary foods but at some point during my initial weight loss, the occasional sugar binge somehow transformed into the all to frequent sugar lust.

So I’m going back to a food diary.  Nothing too extreme, yet.  I’ve never been one to count calories but as my last weight loss came due to routine workouts, cutting portions and eating slowly, I plan on just monitoring servings.  I’m basing it off of my current PBT but probably keeping it in a spreadsheet rather than online.  For some reason ease of use never really transferred when it came to food logging on Blood Team.  So starting today, it begins again.  Lets hope I can stick to it.

Milk Crumbs

Over the last week I’ve been slowly assembling the ingredients to create these Blueberry-and-Cream cookies from Momofuku Milkbar.  We ended up using some incredibly sweet dried blueberries I picked up at Costco.  I should have gone for unsweetened because they were practically Mike & Ikes they were so sweet and chewy.  We also had to pick up some powdered milk for the “Milk Crumbs,” and I ended up buying a huge box of the stuff which I will likely never use again.  We also ran out of parchment paper and I substituted corn syrup for glucose.  Overall they came out pretty well, but they’re also a bit burnt due to the lack of parchment paper.

Probably not worth the money I spent on them but it was a fun little experiment.

Milk Crumbs
Two Sticks of Butter, 1.5 cups of sugar
The Final Product

Faded Class (A Visit to Pittsburgh’s Mallorca)

We went to Mallorca this evening to celebrate our anniversary/Valentine’s day, and while it was good enough, it had that vibe that a lot of older restaurants that have had a good reputation for a long time do:  It was a dusty, dingy old place with mediocre food.

I’ve been to a bunch of these places around the city although they are by no means solely the domain of Pittsburgh.  The waitstaff is well dressed, usually in service tuxes.  They have a nice wine list and linens.  They have valet service and a coat check. You see a lot of young, inexperienced couples as well as handfuls of older locals who seem to know the staff.  The decor is wallpaper and painted wood, and in this case the paint was chipped.  Around the room lights had burned out and were not replaced. The hallway to the restrooms was filled with hardware and the men’s restroom itself had that vaguely damp, shiny painted floor and unkept toilets.

When our waiter rattled off a huge list of specials, we were intrigued.  Tons of seafood, wild boar, lamb shanks, duck.  I had the lamb shanks and Dawn the duck, and when it arrived it was…eh.  I’m not too well schooled in lamb but what I received was too fatty, not very well seasoned and just kind of blah.  The duck was ok.  Our salads were smothered in thousand island dressing, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was eating a Big Mac.  Sides came eventually and while the rice was good, the mixed vegetables seemed thrown together and old.  They also served homemade potato chips and they tasted fine but by the time they got to us they were soggy.  And why chips anyway?

Ultimately, it was a fine dinner, but I was struck by how restaurants of a certain vintage seem to fall into this trap where they stop caring about how the place looks or how food culture has changed and are content to do things as they always have.  They coast along on their reputation as the place literally falls apart and then one day the lights are out and the doors locked, as they’ve idled their way into oblivion.

Cucina Mendoza

Dawn and I dropped Max off with his grandma and headed out into the (south) hills.  Living in the city, we’re fortunate to be able visit restaurants and stores that either live in nice old storefronts or even their own buildings.   I haven’t fully formulated why yet, but I can not stand visiting restaurants in mini-malls, even if they’re pretty good.  Actually I have a few good ideas:  I moved to the city to live in the city, and I don’t really enjoy being in the suburbs.  Pittsburgh’s suburbs in particular seem so inhospitable to me.  There’s really no where to safely walk or bike, and as a result everyone drives everywhere.  Minimalls and “village” style shopping centers are everywhere, but they are so ugly.  All neon and backlight signage, parking lots, and overlit facades.

I’ve joked with my friends about how malls and big box stores are the shantytowns of the future, and to a degree I wonder if there isn’t some truth to that- what happens when those stores go out of business or decide its not profitable to have five giant shopping centers surrounding a dying city.  The thing is that even though a lot of minimalls are giving up their storefronts to pawn shops and check cashing fronts, there are also a number of genuinely good places to eat popping up in these otherwise barren symbols of lost prosperity.

Happily, Cucina Mendoza was one of them.   When we arrived it looked like so many storefront ethnic eateries- plastic chairs, fluorescent lighting, ugly tile floor.  Once we were seated we realized that they had set up a pretty nice bar, and our server quickly brought out homemade tortilla chips and fresh, delicious salsa.  When it comes to Mexican food, I really could care less about “authenticity.”  Authenticity at this point usually means strict adherence to old ideas that are no longer even relevant to the culture they’re derived- food for tourists.  I do however love a nice plate of beans and rice, some fresh salsa and something to put in a couple warm tortillas.  They got it good.

I ordered the “Reboz0”- a plate of meat, pork, chorizo, peppers, onions, mushrooms and pineapple with a generous helping of melted chihuahua cheese on top.  It was served with a few flour tortillas and an incredibly spicy salsa.  The inclusion of fresh vegetables and pineapples(!) was new to me as far as mexican goes and the whole dish was delicious. Dawn got some enchiladas and steak, which were also served with beans and another generous helping of fresh vegetables.

Afterwards we headed across the hills to another suburban ruin- Lebanon Church Road and the tusk of the Century III mall.  Delicious ice cream at Handel’s was had and at that point, we were ready to see our kid.  All in all, a nice, low key night out.

Beer Brats and Puke Dip (this ain’t a food blog)

Being that I am slowly getting over the flu and Dawn and Max may well be on the precipice of infection, we decided to treat ourselves to some downright terrible food this evening.  And by treat ourselves I mean “cause bodily harm through eating this food.”

First up: BEER BRATS

As we obviously weren’t messing around the above Bob Evan’s Beer Brats are simmering in Pennsylvania’s Yuengling Genuine Draft with 1/4 stick of butter and a 1/4 of an onion- as per Chef Flay’s instruction.

Next up, the old secret recipe passed down through Dawn’s family for millenia:


Why yes, that is a can of Hormel chili mixed with a half cube of Velveeta.

If you enjoy dipping salty tortilla chips into a creamy, chunky salt-flavored faux-meat and cheese dip, this is most definitely your thing.  Personally I prefer a jar of Newman’s Own Black Bean and Corn mixed with the Velveeta, just for the political incorrectness of it all, but hey that’s just me.  Bon Appetit!

Cranberry Bliss Bar Wars

If you search around the web for homespun variations of the infamous Starbucks’ Cranberry Bliss Bar, you’ll undoubtedly find a number of attempts and “adaptations”- the term recipe bloggers use when they steal recipes outright and change a single measurement or whatever. No judgement though, I’m about to do the same.

Serious Eats posted this recipe which started off my search for the perfect fake, it’s adapted from Mr. Breakfast, who in turn received it from “Gerry.” The problem with this and many of the other variations I’ve found all seem to treat the “bar” component of the bliss bar as cake, where it seems to be more of a shortbread. My initial attempt tasted fine but was too heavily gingered and way too caky. The actual Starbucks’ bar is a thin sliver of deadly goodness.

With that attempt under my belt, I went ahead and pulled together a shortbread based Cranberry Bliss Bar recipe based on the following:

The recipe follows:


Ingredients for shortbread bar:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted, room temperature butter
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger (OPTIONAL)
  • 1/4 cup minced dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup white chocolate coarsely chopped, or white chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup minced candied ginger

Personally, I found the ginger to be a bit much, so use as much as you desire, or as little.

Ingredients for frosting:

  • 4 ounces softened cream cheese
  • 1 and 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons softened butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

Ingredients for garnish:

  • 1/3 cup white chocolate (as above coarsely chopped or chips)
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries


1. Make the shortbread: In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt (and ginger, optionally). In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter on high speed until pale and fluffy. Add egg yolks and sugar, and beat until sugar is dissolved and the mixture is light. Reduce mixer speed to low, and add the dry ingredients, mixing only until the ingredients are incorporated.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface and shape into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and place in freezer until firm, about 30 minutes.


Preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack in the center.  Remove dough from the freezer and pat it gently just to get it into the corners.  Bake until golden brown, about 40 minutes.  Cool to room temp either on a wire rack or in the fridge.


When cake is cooled, mix all frosting ingredients together and spread a thin layer over the cake. Immediately sprinkle with the minced cranberries. Melt the white chocolate over the stove and in the microwave and drizzle it over the cake.  Make it messy, mix it up if you want.  Use more chocolate than I specify.  This stuff is good.


Slice the cake lengthwise through the middle. Slice the cake across the width three times making a total of eight rectangular slices. Slice each of those rectangles diagonally creating 16 triangular slices.

VIOLA. (pics forthcoming :P)


I ate an actual Cranberry Bliss Bar today and mine taste nothing like it.  The bar was indeed cakie- like a cookie bar or something.  There were bits of fruit that didn’t taste like ginger to me that I suggested may be candied lemon or orange peels but Dawn felt it was lemon zest.  There was definitely a citrusy vibe happening.  The white chocolate chunks were plentiful and the ginger taste was near-zero.  I still love this recipe, its just not really identical.

Breaking Routine

Let’s dive a little deeper into the role of routine on the road to a healthier you.

I recently took a few days off of work to spend some much needed down time with my wife and generally relax over the Easter break. Additionally, the JCC has had some scheduled days off due to the Passover Holiday. The resulting complete breakdown of my workday/weekend schedule compromised my meal planning and consumption completely.

Beginning Friday, with the decision to go to the movies and go out to eat a little more frequently than we usually do, I ate. And ate and ate. I binged. I ate Chicago hot dogs and the frosting off the beater and all the Easter chocolate I could. Then I ate a half a donut. And more easter candy. Jelly beans, peanut butter meltaways, a chocolate mocha Terrine we made for Easter dessert. With more time on my hands then I new what to do with and a carb lust that seemed to increase with every morsel, I simply could not stop myself from eating.

Now part of this, I admit, is that somewhere in the back of my mind I feel like I can justify the gluttony after dropping below 200lbs for the first time in over a decade. But another part of it is that without the routine of my workday-my planned moments of eating throughout the day as a break in the monotony of work itself- I had a really hard time sticking to what I know works. I just wanted something to do. And when you’re at home, even if you are keeping yourself busy, a little munch here and there can lead to a steady stream of eating crap. Suddenly I felt awful and had the kinds of stomach aches (and more) that prior to my weight loss were a routine themselves.

Bottom line: Maintaining a routine helps me (and maybe you) keep your goals in mind. Breaking this routine on occasion is a must, but never let your goals drop from sight.

Bottom line #2: Get the Easter Candy out of the Gods’ damn house.

Meanwhile, I’ve been doing 20 minutes of Yourself Fitness Yoga on the days I don’t go to the Gym before work. I also read that squats are as good or better for your abs than crunches, leg lifts and the like, so I’ve integrated three sets of low-weight squats into my routine. I screwed up my knee about 7 years ago doing squats with too much weight, so I’m going to take it extremely slow for now.

Notes on Extreme Weight Loss

I have passed 50 pounds lost since January of this year. I now weigh less than I did at the end of 12th grade.


  • This has been incredibly hard and at the same time incredibly easy.
  • By training myself to look forward to the leftovers I create by not eating traditional portions, I have drastically reduced the amount I eat, and the amount we spend on food.
  • In general, I feel better than I have in a long time. This is psychological as much as it is physical- I love watching the fat melt off.
  • Discipline is everything. This is the first time in my life, outside of when I was playing sports and competing for a spot on a team, that I have been able to routinize my working out and eating so effectively. I feel that if I stop I will quickly drop into bad habits, and this has become somewhat stressful
  • I allow myself nights where my eating goes way over the top- candy, ice cream etc.
  • Related to that, I do not deny myself any food; I simply minimize the amount of it I eat. A pint of Ben And Jerry’s consumed over two weeks is a treat every night and surprisingly easy to do with my weight loss goals in mind.
  • While these changes have been easy/hard, thinking about eating takes up a considerable amount of my daily thought. I have not been as productive this season and I’m not sure how I feel about it.  Perhaps weight loss should be my only goal right now anyway.

I’m going to post some before/after images soon. I have about 20 more pounds to go. Things have slowed considerably since the beginning of March. A chronicle of every single thing I have eaten since January can be found at my PBT Spreadsheet.