OPA! Dinner at Acropolis Greek Taverna!

Every so often, Baron likes to take his daughter out to one of our favourite restaurants – a Greek restaurant called Acropolis Greek Taverna (in New Tampa) – which is conveniently located up the street from our apartment.

We got there just after 8pm and immediately were shown to our seats, no waiting is very nice.  We opted to eat on the patio, as the light rain all day left things a bit cool, and the music inside the restaurant was very loud.  I didn’t want to have to yell over dinner to hold a conversation.  The downside of being out on the patio is that’s where the hookah smokers are (hookah is very big in Florida, it seems).  I’m not a smoker, and it seems the only one it bugged was me, so I tried to ignore it.

We ordered our appetizers:  Baron ordered the Dolma – his favourite.  His daughter ate the bread with Tzatziki.  My appetizer was the Spinach Artichoke Dip.  The dolma came with pita and lemon and was quickly devoured.  The Spinach Artichoke Dip came with mounds of cheese and tomato covered flatbread, far too much for me to finish in one sitting, and at least half was packaged for me to take home.  The 12 year old was warned not to fill up on bread ant tzatziki, even though she’s a huge fan of the cucumber dip.

Time for the main course!  I ordered their Seafood Pasta, Baron ordered the Shish Kebab and we convinced his daughter to try a Chicken Gyro with Greek Fries.  The children’s menu had your stereotypical fare – chicken tenders, burgers, etc.  We really wanted her to try something new on this trip, and not just rely on the same ol’ same ol’.

My seafood pasta arrived, penne pasta with a tomato cream sauce, and mussels, shrimp and scallops, topped with shaved parmesan.  Thankfully all the mussels were open this time, unlike the last time I ordered this item.  None of the seafood was overcooked.  While not a huge entree, combined with the half-appetizer I ate prior, there was no way I could finish it, and packaged the rest to take home with me.

Baron’s Shish Kebab was, in my opinion, huge.  It came with roasted mixed vegetables and orzo (which he tried to convince his daughter were really maggots).  He enjoyed the beef, told me that the meat was well seasoned, and that it was cooked to his liking.  Last time he had the vegetables they were a bit overdone, but this time they were cooked perfectly.  He ate through his entire entree.

Watching his daughter eat her Gyro was … interesting.  She first referred to it as a taco, which I commented that while it does have similarities to how a taco is eaten, it was indeed, not a taco.  We also had a conversation on the difference between chicken that has been “blackened” and chicken that has been “burnt”.  She ate most of the gyro with a knife and fork, and brought half of it home to eat tomorrow.  She did, however, polish off most of the fries with feta cheese.

As is usual, we left there completely stuffed, and left to head home and flop over into food comas.  They’re a bit on the costlier side of our budget, but it’s something we like to do once every couple months as a treat.  There food is rarely disappointing, they offer live music most nights, and on Fridays they have a belly dancer!  She came out onto the patio to get down with her bad self, and shimmied a bit for Baron’s daughter.  It was cute.  Also, the music will pipe up on occasion and the waiters will form a dancing line around the restaurant, shouting “OPA!” while the restaurant goers clap to the music.  It’s a very festive atmosphere, and a lot of fun.

I highly recommend the New Tampa Acropolis, if you are in the mood for great Greek food, an awesome mood of the restaurant, and really helpful staff.

Failure. Sadface.

Starting this blog, I realized that not only would have to document the good, but I would have to share the bad as well.  This is going to be one of those posts.

I’ve suffered from bipolar disorder since my teens, and today I woke up with in a crushing depression.  I didn’t have enough cash this week to refill one of my prescriptions, so I’ve been taking 1/3 of a dose all week, trying to stretch until Friday.  Today,  I couldn’t do anything except curl up with my cat and my stuffed bear.  My alarm went off for my daily walk and I ignored it.  It took me another two hours before I could summon up the strength of will to even sit down at my computer to start writing this.  I’m still writing this, three hours after that.

I feel like I’ve failed in the simplest of goals.  I didn’t think “walk for the next five days” was too difficult.  Maybe my expectations are too high?  I’m finding myself increasingly frustrated by my inability to keep up with the changes I’m trying to make in my diet and lifestyle.  My budget isn’t keeping up with my diet, and I’m running out of non-meats well before our next payday.  It’s all feeling like an exercise in futility at this point, and I’m not sure where to go next.

It might be the truth.  It might be the bipolar disorder talking.  I don’t know.  I just know that for something that I want so badly, it’s seemingly so unattainable.  Maybe tomorrow, it’ll be easier.  Who is to say?

The Great Soda Search!

Soda Cans

Oh, sweet nectar of life!

Mmmm soda!  Love soda!  Tasty, tasty caffeinated sugar water!

I have to admit to being a soda drinker for most of my life.  Cherry Coke, Dr. Pepper, heck, even my all time favourite Crystal Pepsi (doesn’t that take you back?), I love those fizzy drinks.  In the last year, learning more about how much we ingest High Fructose Corn Syrup, we decided to try and cut HFCS out of our lives as much as possible.  This meant giving up our sugary drinks.  Sigh.

Still, I needed bubbles.  I love the carbonation that soft drinks have, so we switched to diet drinks, both with Aspartame or with Sucralose.  Our drink of choice has been carbonated flavoured water, store brand, at less than a dollar per liter.  They taste awesome and are caffeine free.  The downside?  Chemicals.  Double sigh.

What’s a newly awakened health-conscious person to do?  I want the best of soda without all the icky stuff that comes with it.  Sounds impossible?  I’ve snooped around the interwebs and found a few ideas, like juice and seltzer water.  Some have suggested I should just be happy with plain water with lemon (ew, the water here at the house is fairly unpalatable).  I make myself liter bottles of sweetened herbal tea, but I’d like to get away from processed white sugar.  Maybe try an alternative sweetener, like agave or stevia?  It’s all so confusing.

Tonight I tried a mixture of 2 parts seltzer water and 1 part sweetened white herbal tea.  It wasn’t bad.  Not quite sweet enough for my liking.  I liked the bubbly-ness of it, especially the coldness of it, it was pretty refreshing.  I think I can fudge with this “recipe” a bit, especially if I experiment with new sweeteners, to find something I like.  I’ll most likely try this mixture with fruit juice as well.  Cranberry might be nice?

Question Of The Day:

Got any ideas for good alternatives to soda?  Think carefully, you’ll have to consider sugar intake, caffeine and chemicals when weighing your options!

Motivation To Exercise And How I Got Off My Butt Today!

I hate exercising.

There.  I said it.  I think everyone who has started on a weight loss journey, no matter how great their goal, has started it with those three words.  Before now in my life, while I was never really happy with my weight, I considered myself healthy enough to walk myself all over town.  “Town” was a fairly small city, and without a car, walking was the primary mode of transportation if I wanted to get anywhere.  It was something I did with regularity.  Since moving from Connecticut to Tennessee, and then to Florida three years ago, well, that changed everything.  Tampa is a very spread out city and nothing is really in walking distance.  Plus we have a car.  I’m not getting out for the fresh air and exercise that I used to on a daily basis, and it started to show.  My weight jumped up forty pounds.  I started retaining water in my legs and ankles.  I feel awful.  My doctor finally told me I need to cut out the salt and get out and exercise.

I can’t afford a gym, as much as I’d like to.  So I’m left with the basics.  Let’s just start with walking, shall we?

About two-plus or so months ago, I started walking regularly.  I had an alarm set on my cell phone to remind me when to walk every night, Monday through Friday – just before sun down, when the sun wasn’t unbearable, the Florida heat was letting up and I wouldn’t get a sunburn.  I would do circuits around the apartment complex, because outside the complex, I live on some pretty busy thoroughfares that aren’t very conducive to nice walks.  I thought I was doing ok.  Bumped 2 laps up to 3.  Was about to bump my 3 laps up to 4 when our vacation time came around – New Orleans!

OMG the amount of walking we did while we were in New Orleans I thought my legs were going to fall off!  We enjoyed the time away, and I was ready to get back into my routine, and then the worst happened:  I got sick.  I got hit with a nasty headcold-flu-thing that laid me up for at least a week and a half, maybe two weeks.  Since then, I just haven’t been able to motivate myself back onto the exercise bandwagon.  Each night my alarm goes off, each night I turn it off and make an excuse.

Yesterday, I read a bunch of fitness blogs, and a ton of personal stories about people overcoming their hatred of of exercising, and learned a lot of them started from right where I am.  I need to buckle down and take my goals seriously.  I promised myself that I was going to do this, that I was tired of failing myself and my goals.  I popped open Google maps and made a plan – I was going to walk a mile out from my apartment, and a mile back.  2 miles, I think that’s an ok start?  There was a particular University building I was using as my 1 mile marker.  Once I reached that building, I was going to turn around and come back.  I popped “Dune Messiah”, the second Dune book, on my iPod and headed out at 6:05pm.

Things did not go as planned.

First, some of my mp3s were messed up.  How annoying.  Second, I could not for the life of me find that building.  I looked, checking each building on the street, but it wasn’t there.  I was nearing the next major intersection, which I knew was too far.  I decided to head back, re-check my maps, and see where I went wrong.  I really wished I had a pedometer, it’d have made this so much easier.  Thinking I had cut myself short I was disappointed in myself.  I didn’t want to fail again.

I got home, tried to unwind a bit, and checked the map again.  I didn’t cut myself short.  I had actually passed my goal, by about .3 miles!  My total walk was 2.6 miles in all.  A whole .6 miles past my goal.  I’m elated!  My legs ached a bit and one foot was kind of hurting, but I think if I keep at it, my body will adjust.  Time will tell.

Tomorrow, my alarm will go off at 6pm, and I’ll head out to make the same walk again.  I’ll be doing my damnedest to maintain at least this level of activity from now til Friday, and see how my body responds to it.  I think this may be the start of something amazing.

Pasta Dinner – With Or Without Meat!

Just a quick note about tonight’s dinner, because it turned out so damned tasty.  This was a cooperative effort between Baron and I – I had the idea, he did the cooking.  He’s gone to cooking school, and has been using dinner as a way to teach me my way around the kitchen.

There’s some zucchini and squash left from our last trip to the Farmer’s Market, and it needs to get used before it goes bad, so I suggested using it in a chunky sauce over pasta.  Baron – ever the omnivore – used some thawed meat to make meatballs to go with it.  The sauce is comprised of yellow squash, zucchini, red bell peppers and fire roasted tomatoes (canned), salt and pepper.  The meatballs contained beef, onion, garlic, shallot, egg, breadcrumbs, salt & pepper.  The pasta was tri-colour rotini.

All in all it’s a tasty dinner, whether you’re eating it with meat, or without.  Looking forward to digging into the leftovers tomorrow, too!

Pasta with Meatballs and Vegetable Sauce

Pasta with Meatballs and Vegetable Sauce

Organic Broccoli Pizza with Pickled Garlic! Noms!

While grousing last night about having the urge to cook, but not having much in the way of cooking staples in the house, Baron pointed out something to me: We had a package of pizza dough that was kind of forgotten about.  Omg!  I wanted to make pizza!

Honestly, it’s prepared dough from Pilsbury, so you get what you pay for, but it’s better than nothing.  I combined this with:

  • A can of fire roasted tomatoes (I didn’t have any sauce or puree, so this had to suffice)
  • Slices of Jalapeno Pickled Garlic (it’s not spicy at all, but has a great vingary flavour)
  • Mozzarella Cheese (leftover from Eggplant Parmesan from the other night)
  • Organically Grown Broccoli (a friend of ours had some extra from his CSA and gave me some)

Fifteen minutes in the oven and my pizza was done!  It’s a lot more filling than take-out pizza, and on my third piece I’m already full.

Organic Broccoli Pizza

Organic Broccoli Pizza

Things I learned from my first attempt at making a pizza at home:

  1. Needs longer than 15 minutes.  The center was still a bit light and doughy.
  2. My cat (Gaz) has some aversion to me cutting up broccoli.  She would not stop harassing me the entire time.
  3. Need to find a better way to make it non-stick.  Flour?  Cooking spray?  Spraying olive oil didn’t help in the slightest.
  4. Don’t tin-foil the cooking sheet.  I did this out of habit for cleanup purposes, but in some spots it tried to stick on the pizza crust and tore up.  See #3.
  5. Yes, pizza can be “derpy”.  The dough wasn’t the easiest to work with, so it’s lack of roundness is pretty evident.

I look forward to trying this one again, maybe using bakery-made dough instead of the prepared Pilsbury variety.  I’m not confident enough in my preparation skills yet to attempt to make my own dough yet.  Eventually, but not quite there yet.  One step at a time!

Yummy Fresh Salsa and Baked Potatoes!

After yesterday’s trip to VegFest, I was beat.  I tend to get tired pretty easily – it’s part of the reason why I’m trying to make these lifestyle changes.  I decided to shuffle off to take a nap.  After about four hours, which is WAY longer than I normally nap for, Baron came in and woke me up.  He said to come to the kitchen, because he had made a surprise for me.  Surprise?  Sure!  I dig surprises!

Arriving to the kitchen I found what could only be described as a bowl of tasty goodness.  He had made for me fresh salsa, using veg and fruit from the trip to the Farmer’s Market!  I had run out of my favourite jarred salsa a few days ago, and I use it often for my favourite snack:  Baked Potato with Salsa.  A lot of friends of mine have called me weird for putting salsa on a baked potato, but once they try it, they’re just as hooked as I am.  Also, salsa tastes great and is good for you, low calorie and low in fat.  Sometimes I’ll add some low fat or fat free sour cream if I have it, but it really doesn’t need it.

Baked Potato with Cheese and Fresh Salsa

Baked Potato with Cheese and Fresh Salsa

My method for making “baked potatoes” is simple:  I cube up a washed potato into about one inch cubes and put it in a bowl, so they’re nice, bite-sized pieces.  Microwave for 5-6 minutes, depending on the size of your potato.  Let cool for about a minute, because it’ll be steaming hot, and then take it out of the microwave and add your toppings.  If you want to add cheese or something melty to your potato before you add salsa, take out your potato at about 5 minutes, add the cheese, and microwave for another minute.  Then let cool and add salsa.  Quick and easy!

Now I have this amazing lime flavoured salsa, with fresh tomatoes, onions, garlic and lychee.  One bite and I was hooked.  I’m looking forward to snacking on this hardcore in the coming week!