OyChicago blog

100 Reasons to Live

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Fat Andy Skinny Andy

Andy, then and now

Remember Super Size Me—you know, the movie about the man who ate McDonald’s every day, three meals a day, for 30 days straight?  And after you saw it, you were sure to say “I’m never going to be able to eat at a fast food restaurant again!”  When it came out on DVD, I rented it.  I saw the bits on how this man’s fat levels skyrocketed.  I witnessed the scene where he eats a double quarter pounder and vomits.  I observed all the processed craziness that was ground up to make a chicken McNugget.  I finished the movie and all I could think about was, man I could really go for a Big Mac right now.  You see back then and still to this day, I’m addicted to food.

I could spend pages writing about what drove me to food addiction.  How my parents got divorced, how I didn’t fit in at school, but that doesn’t matter.  What I have come to realize is that I grew up in an environment where I felt out of control.  I felt deprived of love, warmth, and all things good.  Inside of me was a deep empty hole, so I spent 25 years stuffing that hole with food.

At my bar mitzvah I became a man and had put on the weight to back it up.  By age thirteen I weighed 150 pounds and my weight consumed my identity.  The nicknames I encouraged at school included “the Fat Guy” and “Big A.”  Once in class a girl asked me if I was wearing a bra because my chest was bigger than hers. Even though I had a growth spurt and actually thinned out some in high school I couldn’t tell the difference.  Every time I looked in the mirror I saw the same 13-year-old kid that got stuck blocking for the quarterback in neighborhood football games. 

In college, food made up for everything I was missing:  good grades, relationships, athletic talent, money.  Forget the freshman 15, I managed to put on a full freshman 50.  I had gained 100 pounds since my bar mitzvah. By my 21st birthday I weighed 250 pounds. I stopped weighing myself after that but was reminded constantly of my weight gain as I kept outgrowing my clothes.

At age 26 I peaked at around 300 pounds.  Around the same time I rented Super Size Me and went out for a Big Mac after the movie. 

My moment of reckoning came in July of 2005.  I applied for health insurance, and I was denied.  I was physically too huge a risk for the insurance company.  Then a friend of mine said something simple, but profound, “Andy we all have problems. You just have one everyone can see, so you can’t hide it.  The question is, what are you going to do about it?” 

So I did something about it.  I joined a gym, I joined Weight Watchers, I worked with a personal life coach and I hired a personal fitness trainer.  I started eating less and moving more.  Three years later I celebrated 100 pounds of weight loss and even kept going.  I made it to 180 pounds, just five pounds away from my ideal weight of 175.  I started my own coaching and consulting business and called it 100 Reasons to Live.  Every pound I lost gave me one more reason to continue to live a healthy and fulfilling life.  I blogged about my five keys to losing weight and feeling great.  I hosted a seminar to teach others how to live a healthy lifestyle: mind, body, and spirit.  It was called the 100 Reasons to Live charity event.

As great as all this sounds, there is still one problem.  I am still addicted to food.  It has been one year since the 100 Reasons charity event, and I’m 20 pounds heavier.  But I have made a new commitment to stop gaining and end my addiction to food.

When I reach 175 pounds I want to be able to say that I implemented simple changes each week to rebuild healthier habits. I will have kept the refrigerator stocked with healthier foods. I will have found a class at the gym that I could go to every week. I will have asked myself questions each day such as, “What would a 175 pound man who wants to be a lean, mean, athletic machine, order off of this menu?”  “Is this the choice for someone who truly loves himself, mind, body, and soul?”  “Why?  Why do I want to eat this right now, is it because my body needs nourishment or is it because I am trying to use food as a substitute for love?”
Come April I hope I get to say, “For the last six months I have nourished my body with food when it needed it.  When I didn’t need to fill myself with food, I found other ways to fill myself with the love I was missing all along.”    


Bed Rest Lite

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Chai working from home

28 weeks and 6 days down, many more to go

It has now been a week and five days since I have worn shoes, gone on a walk, or left the house. I am no longer allowed to do these things until I reach the critical week 32 of my pregnancy. Especially with twins, my doctor says I can’t be too careful. When I found out about being on light bed rest I had trouble telling my colleagues and friends without tearing up. My life was about to change for at least the next five weeks, if not until the babies are born. Their due date is not until January! In this first week I’ve noticed that bed rest isn’t so bad. Here’s the breakdown.

Pro: Sleeping longer because my only commute is from the bedroom to the dining room table where I set up my office space each morning.

Con: Little motivation to shower and change clothes because of said commute. Also, I could really use a haircut. My stylist will come to my house, but isn’t free until after Thanksgiving.

Pro: Making snacks and lunches at any point without having to plan in advance. This also saves money.

Con: Needing to have lots of groceries and planning for snacks and lunches over the weekend when Mandi goes to the store.

Pro: Working next to large southern exposed windows and enjoying the changing leaves and natural light until I have to turn on the light at 3:30pm. This is much improved to my office view of an alley and a parking garage.

Con: It is abundantly clear how the days are shortening and I cannot go outside to enjoy my favorite season. Our back porch offers some fresh air and the lovely scene of (of course) an alley.

Pro: Cuddling with kitties Mr. Pants and Cocoa Bean throughout the day while working at my laptop.

Con: Having to protect all food items and the computer cord from playful yet destructive and endlessly persistent cats. I do not move quickly enough for those two anymore.

Pro: Sweatpants and no bra. Enough said.

Con: Not being presentable for the Fedex guy or the nice neighbor who stops by to say hi.

Pro: Being able to eat lots of delicious food with no guilt. Anyone have a brisket they want to bring over?

Con: Not being able to cook anything that takes more time or effort than boiling some pasta. Relying on others is a learned skill that I’m still learning.

Overall, I feel blessed to have this time to relax and focus on growing two babies. I am so fortunate to be able to work from home and grateful for such supportive colleagues and friends who stop by to hang out. Thank you all!


Chef Laura Frankel serves up the real deal

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Laura Frankel photo

I think the concept that best explains how I think about food is the notion of Cucina Povera. This Tuscan concept is one born out of humble and peasant ingredients both afforded in the region of Italy and grown locally. The phrase Cucina Povera means "poor kitchen." The idea is almost more of a technique and way of thinking rather than just a bare cupboard. Leftover bread becomes a thickener and method of stretching soup; yesterday’s pasta becomes today’s soup and so on. Cucina Povera is the way many of our grandparents functioned in their home kitchens and similar to the way many chefs work in professional kitchens.

In the kosher kitchen we only have so many ingredients to work with, both at home and professionally. Many ingredients that most chefs take for granted are not part of my daily repertoire due to kosher restrictions. I have a meat and pareve kitchen and cannot just add cream to a soup or sauce to thicken it. I have to work a bit harder and find other ways that fit into the kosher laws. I do not believe in using faux foods for substitutions and look to natural ingredients that are already kosher and in season. In the spirit of Cucina Povera I embrace my constraints, accept the materials I have to work with and move on. I always say that if a recipe cannot be made without completely mutilating it, then do not make it. I have never put soy crème brulees on my menus and never will. I also do not sell faux crab or mock sour cream. Real sour cream is amazing and who doesn’t love crème brulee? I know I do after a dairy or pareve meal. The artificial stuff doesn’t come close and I have too much respect for my ingredients, clients and family to ever serve ersatz food.

Kashrut is all about making choices—not getting around them with cheap imitations. Do as the Tuscans do and look at what is growing locally and in season. Make the most of it and Buon Appetito!

Here is a delicious seasonal recipe for a killer Tuscan pumpkin soup—enjoy!:

Italian Pumpkin Soup (Crema di Zucca)

There are as many variations of this soup as there are shapes of pasta in Italy. This festive, seasonal soup makes a great alternative to the more common butternut squash soup in a hollowed out pumpkin for a dramatic presentation. Add toasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas) for a crunchy garnish.

8-10 servings

7 cups plus 1 cup vegetable stock
1 ounce. dried Porcini mushrooms
1 7 pound pumpkin, about 5 cups peeled and diced pumpkin (look for Sugar Pumpkin) or 3 cups canned pumpkin puree
12 Cipollini onions, peeled and cut in quarters
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 medium head Savoy cabbage, very thinly sliced
½ cup heavy cream
Parmesan crisps-see below
½ Amaretti crumbs, (these Italian cookies can be found at most Whole Foods or gourmet stores)

1. Place one cup of vegetable stock in a small saucepan with the dried porcini mushrooms. Bring to simmer. Turn off the heat and set aside.
2. Brown the diced pumpkin if using in batches in a large sauté pan lightly coated with olive oil. Be sure to season each batch with salt and pepper. Transfer the browned pumpkin to a saucepan or stockpot.
3. Add the cipollini onions in the same sauté pan adding more olive oil if necessary. Brown the onions until they are caramelized and golden (about 5 minutes).
4. Add the stock, porcini mushrooms, soaking liquid and nutmeg to the slow cooker. Cover and simmer until the pumpkin is very soft (about 1 hour) or if using canned pumpkin, simmer for 30 minutes. Puree the pumpkin in batches adding more liquid if necessary.
5. Add the cabbage and the cream. Simmer for 30 minutes or until the cabbage is very soft and creamy. Adjust the seasoning. Garnish with parmesan crisps and amaretti crumbs and toasted pumpkin seeds right before serving.

Parmesan Crisps

These salty, nutty crisps can be baked several days ahead of serving and kept at room temperature in an airtight container.

8 crisps

3 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees
2. Line a baking sheet with two sheets of of parchment paper. Place 2 tablespoons of grated cheese in mounds on the baking sheet. You should have 8 mounds.
3. Flatten each mound with the back of a spoon and sprinkle them with pepper.
4, Bake for 5-6 minutes until lightly golden. Allow the crisps to cool before handling.

Chef’s tip for holidays and everyday

The task of peeling pearl onions and shallots is enough to make anyone swear off of using these flavor-packed, gorgeous dish embellishments.
A simple chef trick is to blanch them in boiling water first and then their little “jackets” slide right off.

Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Place the onions, shallots or garlic in a heat proof colander or strainer. Place the strainer in the boiling water. Blanch the vegetables for 2-3 minutes.

Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with ice water (you want it large enough to accommodate the colander with the onions in it). Remove the colander from the boiling water and place it in the ice water. This process is called “shocking”. It stops the cooking process. Allow the onions to cool completely. Remove the onions from the water. Cut a small end from the tip off and the skin should slip right off.

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