You’ve come a long way, baby

yogurtIn my never-ending effort to keep trim, and in a final push to be at my goal weight for my 37th birthday, I found myself wandering aimlessly around the grocery the other day looking for something delicious and low-cal. Probably, I should have looked no farther than the produce department since things like carrot sticks and apple slices are the only real diet food. But you know what? It’s April and the produce still sucks. After a while, the idea of having yet another banana makes you want to barf.

But then I passed by the organic dairy section and I noticed that the yogurt selection has grown considerably. I pass by this section often, and over the past year have increasingly been putting plain Fage yogurt in my basket. I find that when it comes to toning down a hot curry or adding excitement to a thick soup, it does a good job.

But this time I noticed Fage was now surrounded by several brands of flavored Greek yogurt, whether honey, vanilla, cherry, lemon or blueberry.

Thinking of Greek yogurt, I was transported instantly back to Mykonos. It was our first day on the island and my best friend Kristin and I were marveling over how much cheaper Greece was than Italy. So cheap, in fact, we could afford a bottle of wine with our dinner. So we noshed on creamy, salty feta, cut into grilled beef that had been charred over smoky coals, peeled shrimp and dipped the pink meat in garlicky butter, and sipped on that lovely wine. Surrounding us were chatty locals and affectionate cats, who roamed comfortably among the tables while the warm breeze rushed through the huge open windows. Then the waiter — oh yes, he was handsome all right — suggested dessert and Kristin and I looked at each other.

“Are you kidding,” we said to each other. “Our hotel room is 30 Euros a night. Of course we’re having dessert.”

He came back with two bowls of plain yogurt drizzled with honey as golden as the setting sun. That yogurt was unlike anything we’d ever had before: tangy, creamy and as thick as icing. For the next three weeks, we ordered yogurt as often as we could, wondering why in the heck North America couldn’t get it together and offer something comparable.

Because up until then, which was about 10 years ago, yogurt was something you choked down more than enjoyed, wasn’t it? So thin, you were lucky to keep it in your spoon before spilling. So processed, it had the disturbing after-taste of chemicals. Its biggest selling factor was that it was supposed to keep you “regular” or after seven days you got your “money back.”

Then, remember Yop? The yogurt, umm, drink? Ugh, was there anything more off-putting than seeing that your mom had tucked a bottle of Yop in your lunch kit? Unless it’s for juice, a piece of food should never, under any circumstances, be re-formatted so it becomes a drink. Agreed?

But things have changed. A few years ago, Kroger started carrying Oikos, plain Greek yogurt that actually was pretty good. Then Fage hit the scene and now the Greek yogurt selection had sprouted like a garden.

So the other day, I picked up a single-serving-size tub of Voskos brand and saw that its contents translated to just 120 calories. But the tub, it felt weighty and the nutritional information said it contained 12 grams of protein — the secret to feeling full for longer. Could this be my golden ticket?

The next morning, after another disappointing step on the scale, I pulled out the Voskos and peeled back the foil. The yogurt was a light pink and smelled like cream and strawberries. I dug my spoon in and then watched it stay put, the yogurt dense enough to keep the spoon afloat. I took a bite and, hello, it was delicious. It was low-calorie, high-protein deliciousness.

So I propose we’ve entered a new era of yogurt, one in which we’ve finally shed the clotty Yoplait, the chemically Activia, the strange fruit-at-the-bottom concoctions that make you feel like you’re eating jam. Finally, we seem to be catching up to the Greeks. And I’m a little bit closer to that evening in Mykonos.

Mars vs. Venus: cutting bread

bread shelfThere are many differences between men and women, but according to my stepdad Peter, one of the most reliable of them has to do with how we slice bread. He pointed this out to me while we were in my kitchen a few months back and I stood with a loaf of bread before me that was decidedly lopsided.

“I take it you have something to do with that?” he asked in his mild Australian accent.

I turned with the smile I only reserve for Peter because I just love him so much.


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100 purple balloons

balloonsLast Friday, my friend Sarah and I stood wrestling a helium tank into the kitchen. We’d squeaked it past the cars in the garage and now there were the six stairs leading to the house to contend with. As I stood looking at Sarah, who is as big as a minute, and the tank, which was as big as a monster, the idea of actually getting it forward, never mind upward, was starting to feel impossible. But Sarah, with her ox-like work ethic, wasn’t about to give up and with superhuman strength hoisted the bottom up.


So we heaved, hoed, heaved, hoed the thing up the steps and finally settled it down on the kitchen floor, Sarah punctuating the victory by tripping and hitting her head on the door. We were both out of breath, a little giddy by what we’d accomplished, a little scared by what other injuries could have been sustained. But the tank, it was inside. And now the party could start.

Because Gabrielle Baker was about to turn 14. And she was going to have her some balloons.

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Getting back in the kitchen

chickenIt hasn’t been a stellar winter for me in the kitchen. I usually hit a patch of doldrums in February anyway, but I was uninspired in January and now here’s March, not much better. I’ve made just one recipe in my new crockpot, the spines of the latest issues of my food magazines are uncracked, and my fridge is ridiculously clean, which only happens when it’s, well, empty.

So easily, cooking can become just another chore to get through amid a series of chores. First you need to figure out what to make, which can be the longest part of the process. Then there is the trip to the grocery, then waiting in line at the cashier, then driving, then putting things away, then finally getting set up for preparation. Even if the end product is the most enjoyable part of your day, which eating dinner always is for me, it doesn’t mean getting to it is always fun.

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Keeping track

ImageJ. Alfred Prufrock measured out his life in coffee spoons, I document mine in checkmarks. These marks live in my day timer, which I buy each year at Office Depot. In early January, I write down everyone’s birthdays for the year, highlighting them in yellow so I don’t miss them by mistake. Then I write down my tasks for the first of each month: load online coupons, invoice for columns, clean washer, check bank accounts. Then the checkmarks begin, which each day’s tasks written down with my No. 2 BIC pencil.

It’s almost embarrassing to admit how much satisfaction I get out of checkmarking off a task. Sometimes, if one checkmark is taking too long to accomplish, I’ll do a quick one, like watering the plants, so I get a quick mark and feel like I’m reaching my goals. The hardest checkmarks to obtain are of course the ones for writing. I get one checkmark for each hour I write and I try to get four of them each day. The working out checkmark is another one that’s hard won, but more often than not these days I get to tick that one off too.

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In the market for a fern

orchidMy orchid Yvette is dying and I don’t know what to do. What’s more, I’m not sure I care anymore. It’s been one thing about another in the past six months and I’ve had about enough of her high maintenance. But let’s not tell her that, shall we? Yes, let’s keep that to ourselves for now. God knows she’s sensitive enough as it is.

I got Yvette as a gift three years ago, and I was both thrilled and scared to receive her; all I had ever heard about orchids was how difficult they are to care for. But I was willing to give it a go, so I sat her on the hearth of the fireplace and started giving her four ice cubes a week.

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Facing the bathing blues

bathing suitBathing suits. It’s time to talk about them. Because as I was lying on the beach last week I realized that about 0.01 percent of women feel comfortable in them and the rest of us? Well, the rest of us just suffer.

I realized this as I was watching a woman with six-pack abs and 6-foot-long legs rearrange her towel on her deck chair. Apparently, she was having an issue getting it how she wanted it because she kept spreading out the towel in the air, as you would a sheet, and draping it across the chair. Unsatisfied, she’d do it again and then again. Then, whoops, she knocked her sunscreen off the table so she beeeennnt over — little deeper, now you’ve got it — to pick it up. Then her back got itchy so she languorously scraaaaaatched, then, oooh, her legs (understandably, given their length) got stiff so she streeeeetched. Then back to the towel: fling, fling.

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The search of the missing wallet

walletGI was running on empty this morning after I dropped Gabrielle off at school and swung into the gas station to fill up. I had popped open the gas cap, turned off the car and then started digging in my purse for my wallet. Except my new, beautiful wallet I’d gotten for Christmas wasn’t in there.

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A new cook in the kitchen

potpieOne of my New Year’s resolutions for 2014 is to teach my stepdaughter Gabrielle how to cook. Happily, she’s on board with the plan, and yesterday we found ourselves in the kitchen making a roast chicken. Granted, she looked at me a little warily when I told her she would actually have to touch the chicken to stuff it — “Touching raw meat is what separates the men from the boys,” I informed her — but with just a slight wriggling of her nose, she held onto the drumsticks while I shoved onion, garlic, lemons and thyme into the cavity.

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Building snow memories

winter stepsIn the nearly nine years I’ve been writing this column, I’ve tried to vary my topics to keep things fresh. But when we get a good, healthy snow day like this one, I feel helpless to write about anything else. Because snow days are my very favorite thing about living in Kentucky.

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