Tag Archives: diet

The Leftover Project: Easy Pumpkin Soup with Exotic Spices (Can be vegan)

images[2]You know how leftover holiday ingredients lurk in the back of your pantry? Well, today is Halloween, and I was craving pumpkin soup, but not badly enough to go the store and buy the fresh sugar pumpkin and heavy cream that most recipes call for. What I did have was a can of pumpkin puree, left over from last year’s holiday baking. All righty then! But what to use to replace the cream? How about a few potatoes for thickness, and some canned “lite” coconut milk. That’ll do nicely! Here’s what I did – no picture this time, because the finished soup is a muddy tan color, but oh-so-tasty. Want it more orange? Perhaps add more carrots.

You’ll need a stick blender for this one – I maintain that it’s too much trouble to ladle hot soup into the blender, but suit yourself. I love my stick blender for making velvety soups.

Into your large-ish soup pot, throw in one onion, a big stalk of celery, and a few peeled carrots, all roughly chopped. Sweat them in a tablespoon or so of olive oil, stirring from time to time, over medium heat. I like to put the lid on the pot between stirs to hasten the process. You want the onions to be nice and glassy – sautéing the veggies before you add the liquid results in a deeper flavor.

Next, I added about a liter and a half of chicken broth. I use the low-sodium stuff from a carton. If you wanted to make a vegan soup, you could easily substitute vegetable broth. I threw in a few medium potatoes, diced. Then I stirred in a bit more than half of a large can (29 ounce size) of pumpkin purée – NOT the presweetened pie filling, just the plain purée. I also added two cloves of garlic, minced. But what to season this with? Many recipes I looked at called for basically the same spices you’d use for pumpkin pie, and I did not want my soup to taste like pie! Lo and behold, I find at the back of my (overstuffed, disorganized) spice cupboard a tin of garam masala. A warm-and-fragrant-but-not-hot blend of Indian spices, it does contain cinnamon, cloves and cardamom, but does not smell like pie – it smells like an exotic spice market. And so I dumped in a few teaspoons of this stuff – what a wonderful smell!

I brought the pot to a boil and then lowered the heat, leaving it to simmer for 30 minutes or so. When the potato cubes and carrot bits were tender but not mushy, I pureed most of the soup with my stick blender – just stuck that sucker right into the pot and swirled it around until most of the soup was smooth. I like to leave a few chunks of potato and veg. – that makes the soup more interesting, I think.

But the soup still lacked something. Ah yes – in went half a can of “lite” coconut milk, well shaken, of course. A few more minutes of simmering, and wow! This is really tasty soup, a little different than the usual versions, very quick and easy, and a good way to use up leftover canned pumpkin. And it’s quite low in fat and calories!

But wait a minute – now I have about a cup of canned pumpkin and a cup of coconut milk. I’m thinking pumpkin pancakes, or maybe muffins. Do you have a suggestion?

Lavish Praise for the Fast Diet

It started with a colonoscopy. “TMI!” I hear you scream. Well, dears, I’m over fifty, and when one is fifty, one must have the nasty procedure. Better 24 hours of nasty than colon cancer. So I booked an appointment with our excellent local gastroenterologist, picked up my packets of poop-o-matic, and – being the research nut that I am – proceeded to Google all the advice I could find on preparing for this nasty procedure.

            And did I ever find advice! God bless all the generous people who share such advice on the internet. So I followed the advice of those who had gone before me and consumed nothing but clear liquids for two days before the test. I dreaded the discomfort of fasting, but much less than I dreaded the night of a thousand waterfalls. 

            Well, imagine my surprise when two days of white grape juice (so tasty!), green tea and veggie broth turned out to be not so bad. I was uncomfortable, but just a bit, and tired, but not too tired to function at work. Hmm – I’d always thought that when I went without food for any length of time, I’d feel cranky, headachy, and miserable. Not this time. And – after having recovered from the anesthesia – I got to thinking. I remembered having read Mireille Guiliano’s French Women Don’t Get Fat and Dr. Will Clower’s The Fat Fallacy, both of which remind us greedy, snack-grazing Americans that the French do not snack between meals. Hmm. But don’t our fitness magazines tell us to eat several small snacks a day to avoid dips in our – what, insulin levels? energy levels? weight? pants size?

            And then, in one of those God-thunks-you-on- the-head weekends, I ran across several mentions of intermittent fasting, both online and in magazines. Didn’t Dr. Andrew Weil, that wise and jolly health guru, also advocate a once-a-week fast for health benefits? And mightn’t my angry belly benefit from an occasional rest? I was intrigued – not enough to book a week-long Fasten Kur (supervised fast) at a German spa, but enough to download Dr. Michael Mosely’s The Fast Diet on my Kindle. Well!

            The Fast Diet is a quick and easy read. I won’t bore you with a lengthy review – there are plenty of good reviews online, such as here: http://foodwatch.com.au/reviews/item/the-fast-diet.html. Basically, Dr. Mosely says that by consuming only 500 calories (600 for men) on two non-consecutive days each week and eating normally on the other five days, one can lose weight steadily and reap other health benefits. I was intrigued. I liked the idea of exercising strict control, but not all the time – and I really liked the idea of once again being able to wear those size 10 pants I’d stashed away in the attic.

            Now ten weeks into the routine of Monday and Thursday “fasts,” really more like mini-famines, I feel dandy and have dropped thirteen pounds. Wow! And that includes a month of visiting friends and family in the U.S., during which I managed only five fast days. A typical fast day looks like this for me:

  • No breakfast, just black coffee with Splenda. I’d never been a breakfast-skipper, but I find that I really don’t miss it that much and feel pretty good until lunchtime.
  • For lunch, a salad with tuna, lots of greens, peppers, zucchini, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, carrots, green onions, dressed with lemon juice and lots of spicy seasoning. Not the best salad I’ve ever eaten, but filling and tasty-ish.
  • For dinner, lots more veg., either roasted, grilled, or “stir-fried” in cooking spray and some broth, along with a bit of boiled chicken breast, boiled shrimp, or a small portion of broiled tofu or fish. No alcohol, no starches, no sweets. Not gourmet fare, but not bad!

             My body seems to like this routine; I sleep great on fast nights, and my twice-weekly fast days fit well into my work routine. Do I pig out on non-fast days? Not at all! If anything, this new (for me) way of eating has sharpened my awareness of calorie counts, of real hunger v. eating out of boredom or habit, and I seem to crave starchy foods less often – I, the former pasta junkie and slave to crackers! Sweets were never really my thing, but salty crunchies? I was helpless before them. Having lost the weight feels so good that I don’t want to screw it up by over-indulging.

            But the most important benefit of this experience is that I’ve lost my fear of hunger. I used to be convinced that if I allowed myself to get really hungry, I’d …what? Feel really awful? Bite someone’s head off? Lose my mind? Curl up and bawl like a baby? Actually, none of that happens. So far, there are moments during “fast” days when I feel a little tired, a little unfocused, but those feelings pass pretty quickly. If I acknowledge the hunger, remind myself that I can eat a little this evening and I can eat whatever I want tomorrow, this much-feared discomfort goes away, and I get on with my day. This is a revelation! It’s a type of freedom. And I’ve shrunk back into so many cute outfits that I couldn’t zip up two dress sizes ago. Who’da thunk it was so simple? Thank you, Dr. Mosely!