Isn’t it really all about the journey? … And fudge!

Heavy, Man. Text Heavy.

Today’s blog is text heavy. So, I’m not going to do any “extra” typing, but do want to point out a FANTASTIC interview with an inspiring woman who is well on her way, after dropping well over 100 lbs. already! I’ve also got part 2 of my little story of growing up in kitchens and, as always, more recipes! I hope you enjoy it all!

In other news … HI, GRANDMA!

~ DJ



DJ: First of all, cool name!

We got to chatting in Facebook and you told me a bit about your story, then shot me a few “before and after” shots and I was totally blown away! I asked if I could share your story and you said that your story wasn’t over; that you weren’t ready for that. We chatted a bit more and you continued to impress and inspire me! I know you’re not at your goal (neither am I, to be frank), but that doesn’t mean you’re not already a HUGE success. I tend to believe there are a million little victories that occur along the way. Many little battles won, prior to winning the war. Let’s dig in!

What was your “before” weight?

Syvella: This should be the easy question to answer but at my ‘starting weight’ I was so heavy my doctor’s scales wouldn’t weigh me. The scales went to 400 and I was over that. My guess is somewhere around 425 to 440.

DJ: What was your life like, beforehand?

Syvella: To say I was miserable in an understatement. I have been overweight my entire life. As a child being obese is misery. When I was in elementary school I was the largest person in my school…always needing a larger desk than others which even more made me stand out. I spent most of my elementary school years trying to figure out how I could avoid being at school. I was probably the student that visited the school nurse more than any other in hopes of getting away from the teasing and if possible to go home away from everyone. Unfortunately home wasn’t much of a safe haven either.

My mother has schizoaffective disorder. She knew I had a weight problem but with her mental illness rational changes were not part of her behavior. As a small child I liked butter and my sister tells me about as a small child my mother letting me eat sticks of butter as snacks. Later in my elementary years she put me on a all tuna fish diet for months. No wonder I couldn’t figure out this stuff growing up! I remember going in starvation mode in high school and a doctor actually telling me I was lying about what I was eating! My mother in the worst of her mental illness was both verbally and physically abusive but I am pretty sure the most damaging was the verbal abuse. The single worst statement she made to me that horribly impacted my life was “If you don’t lose your fat ass you will never find someone to marry you”

…so of course a teenager with a very poor self esteem married at 18 to the first man that asked. I was close to 300 pounds when I married him and gained over another 100 during a very sad and abusive marriage. As an adult I would avoid getting my own mail because just walking to the mailbox was taxing. I couldn’t even begin to keep up with my son. I avoided so many things in life because of my weight. I hated going to family reunions and avoided most family events. I was so embarrassed I didn’t want my own family to see me. I didn’t like eating in restaurants because I didn’t like people watching me eat. I avoided any restaurant that had booths because I couldn’t fit in them. Even now at losing over 100 pounds I am taken back to that moment every time I slide into a booth. I didn’t go to the movies or sporting events that had chairs with arms. I cringed every time I sat in a wood chair or lounge chair just waiting for it to fold under my weight. I was hot and sweaty and miserable because of my weight but I wouldn’t wear anything that wouldn’t cover all of me.

…it’s kind of comical to me now that I actually thought I could cover my weight with clothing! Throw a blanket on your recliner…it doesn’t disappear…not sure why I thought I would!! I was in my 20’s which should be the best part of my life but I was drowning in what literally was a cocoon of fat. How much worse could life be than when you are hiding from your family, friends and trying to hide from the rest of the world at over 400 pounds?!?

DJ: What caused you to make the change?

Syvella: This is a real emotional question to answer that I haven’t really shared with many people. I truly was so miserable I didn’t want to wake up anymore. I was in a miserable marriage, I had a young son and I was EXISTING not LIVING in a cocoon of fat. My son was a year old and I kept thinking to myself how can I continue to live like this and not be a complete and total embarrassment to this child when he is older. It was truly a miracle he was born but I couldn’t even enjoy being a mother because at my weight I couldn’t properly care for myself much less a VERY hyper son that was running and into everything by the time he was 8 months old!! How selfish of me to bring this child into the world but I couldn’t give him everything a mother should be able to do with their child. I couldn’t chase him. I couldn’t go down a slide with him. I couldn’t do ANYTHING active with him…he has ADHD so he was always VERY hyper. What was I going to do? Lock this child in the house with me and avoid the world? Was I going to lay around thinking I didn’t want to wake up in the morning? Where was my son going to be then? Who was going to raise him? If I didn’t change I was going to get my wish granted about not waking up! I was in my 20’s with high blood pressure and diabetes all brought on by my cocoon of fat. One of the greatest moments of my life was when I was able to go down a slide with my son!

DJ: What is your current weight?

Syvella: Today I am 285. I am still a work in progress!

Syvella - Before and During

DJ: How have you done it? Was exercise involved?

Syvella: I eat low carb. Honestly I ran across Atkins on the internet when researching weight loss surgery. The thought in my mind was okay I am going to try this and when it doesn’t work I can tell everyone I have tried everything then I am getting weight loss surgery. Today I limit my carbs and eat gluten free. I have learned I can’t drop weight without exercise and I have learned to love many forms of exercise but it didn’t start out that way. The first time I went to the gym for water aerobics I sat in my car in the parking lot for 30 minutes crying. I was horrified to go in public in a bathing suit but at my weight water was the only form of exercise that wasn’t torture in the beginning. I started out taking the class and ended up at one point teaching 8 water aerobics classes a week. I swam my first mile swim at around 350 pounds. Today I strength train, lap swim, cycle and working on a running program. I absolutely love all of those but running. I am hoping at some point I will learn to love it too as my body continues to change. Last week I did my first 5k and I’m now training for my first sprint triathlon which I plan to do around September.

DJ: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced? What are some of the wins?

Syvella: I’ve had some set backs along my journey. When I was teaching the water aerobics classes I found out I had to have a hernia repair surgery. I had some pretty severe complications in what should have been a simple surgery. I went from working out 20+ hours a week including teaching the water aerobic classes to not even being able to take a shower for 6 months. During that time I gained some weight back and it was quiet a journey to get back refocused but I am back and loving exercise again. The wins are endless….less medication, less health problems, energy to enjoy life! The true WIN is having my life back and LIVING instead of existing!

DJ: How has your life changed as a result of the lost weight and improved health?

Syvella: I can be active with my son! My son is now 13 and next weekend we are going trout fishing! We have to walk a lot and do a lot of hiking along a river bank. I would have never attempted that before! I couldn’t even walk to the mailbox without being out of breath! I am training for a triathlon?!? Even I shake my head that one! Each minute of the day I try to figure out how I can be more active instead of trying to figure out how I can get out of activities!

DJ: Any unexpected benefits?

Syvella: SEX, sex is awesome! At over 400 pounds you’re not exactly athletic in the bedroom or ready to tear your clothes off at any minute! My major unexpected benefit is becoming athletic. I would have never viewed myself as being athletic or becoming an athlete …after all I spent most of my life trying to avoid it. I still do a double take when someone refers to me being athletic.

DJ: What is your current goal? Do you have a longer term goal?

Syvella: My current goal is to finish a triathlon under my own power LOL Not via ambulance! My long term goal is to do the next one faster 🙂 I have learned that the scales don’t always show my progress. I have dropped a pants size with only losing a few pounds before so I don’t get caught up with the number on the scale. Fitness goals motivate me much more because I am always competing with myself and the bonus is more pounds gone off my hips!

DJ: What’s one thing you’d tell another person with more than a hundred pounds to lose? Any words of wisdom?

Syvella: Don’t focus on how much you have to lose. One pound at a time, one fitness goal at a time, one foot in front of the other for another day. With a large amount to lose if the number is your focus it can be overwhelming. I still have over another 100 to go but I have lost more than that already so it’s time to celebrate. Enjoy each pound you lose instead of sweating over how much more you have to go! Every excuse you may use to not exercise is the very reason you need to be exercising! I had all those excuses, I’m too fat, I can’t breath, I am too embarrassed to go to the gym or ride a bike! If I can do this anyone can do it! Don’t be afraid of heavy weight training….muscle is our friend!

DJ: Now, looking through your answers, do you not see what you’re such an inspiring rock star goddess? 😉 Chatting with you totally got me going … you’ve been through so much and have clearly triumped!

Syvella: You ROCK DJ! Thank you! Doing your interview was a good time of reflection for me!

DJ: Thank you for sharing your story with us! Where can we find you, if we have more questions?

Syvella: This is a little fitness page I started on Facebook about our family journey. I will have a blog up and going soon but till then find me on Facebook!

Memories … (Part II)

The owner rolls her eyes and sneers at me as I scramble to pick the flat of strawberries up off the floor. I’ve only been here for a week, and I’ve already been to the hospital for a cut finger, have managed a horribly blistered burn and now I’ve just dropped at least a thousand strawberries all over Ursula’s expensive circular-head pumps. I’m not sure which is worse, the fact that the berries rolled all over the restaurant kitchen, or that Ursula’s mother was whacking my teenage rear with a broom handle, while I wiggle and writhe on the ground; scooping up berries from under the reach-in.

I finally gathered them up and did my best to place them back into the thin cardboard crate. Oma snatches the fruit from my quivering hands and shuffles off to her table to coddle them.

Later that day …

Oma slapped the back of my hand, grabbed my wrists and violently shook them until I dropped the salad spinner. With her enormous padded mitts, she literally controlled my scrawny arms, like those of a marionette. She dragged me into the dry goods and threw a clean apron at me. She tugged me back to the chopping block and guided my fingers until the apron lay open over the countertop. She manipulated my limbs until I had poured all the water logged lettuce into the center of the apron, where I was then coerced into bundling up the corners. She pulled me outside, into the receiving area.

Once outside, this pruny Lilliputian stole the apron, pushed me away and then proceeded to spin the entire satchel of lettuce in the air, splattering water all over the pavement. If this hard little woman hadn’t used her every might to humiliate, deflate and humble me, I may have found her gyrations funny. Rather, I’d grown to understand her way. She was telling me, “Hey Stupid, quit being such an idiot. Work smarter! Rather than clean the leaves one at a time in that little lettuce toy, man up and get dirty!”

Oma tossed me the apron and went back inside to her table, where she quietly cut the tops off of some strawberries.

(Next week, the exciting conclusion in Part III!)

Sweet, Dark n’ Nutty-Gritty Fudge

Sweet, Dark n' Nutty-Gritty FudgeWhen I was a kid, we would travel into Gold Rush territory and visit a historic old town called “Columbia“, in California. Aside from the crazy rock gardens formed by mining methods and the local “Moaning Caverns”, one of my favorite things to do was drink Sarsaparilla and eat handmade fudge. YUM!

This fudge recipe is interesting. It’s actually made in a manner very similar as most fudges. It is heated to a “soft ball” stage, and then cooled, where it hardens to the texture of fudge! The only fudge I’ve ever had had a somewhat grainy effect, from the crystallized sugar. THIS fudge is no different. The erythritol re-crystallizes and creates a grainy/gritty texture. It’s not at all unpleasant, but it’s not a “smooth” fudge. Also, for anyone familiar with large quantities of erythritol, there is a very mild “cooling” sensation that occurs, when eating it. I’ve never really noticed it before, but it’s noticeable in this recipe. To be perfectly honest … I kind of like it! It’s like an air conditioner … in my mouth!

Finally, this fudge was INCREDIBLY sweet. Sickeningly sweet. This is part of the allure of fudge for a kid, but as a grown-up, it was too much. In retrospect, I would’ve thrown a cup or two of chopped walnuts into it, prior to cut the sweet. (included in the recipe, as I feel it’s somewhat necessary)

Note: I used a sugar equivalent called “Swerve” for this. It did work, but … it also re-crystallized. I suspect this wouldn’t work with something like Splenda. It also wouldn’t work with liquid sweeteners or pure stevia.


Salmon Patties

Salmon PattiesI grew up on salmon patties. They were DEFINITELY a favorite of mine, growing up. If I had to hazard a guess, I would imagine that the patties I was raised on came from canned salmon, breadcrumbs and maybe mayonnaise, swirled in a pan, patted into pucks and then fried in some kind of vegetable oil. Whatever they were, they were loved, appreciated and then dipped into seemingly bottomless puddles of ketchup. Mmmmmm ….

These salmon patties are made with fresh salmon and omit the breadcrumbs. However, because I know that breadcrumbs are such a big part of my fondness for these flat, fishy discs, I wanted to emulate that bulk and texture. Enter the pork rind dust!

In short, pork rinds are fried and puffed pig skins, which are usually blasted with some kind of salty flavor dust. You’ll usually find them in most grocery stores in the snacky section, with all the other stuff you’re pretending isn’t there. Just look for the pork rinds. They’re delicious! Sort of the low-carbers’ fauxtato chip! If you take these same packaged pork rinds and throw them in a food processor and pulse it a few times, you’ll get something that very closely approximates bread crumbs!

In this particular recipe, we’re going to take about half of the salmon and throw it in the food processor with an egg, to make a paste. Then, we’re going to fold that mixture into about half of the rind crumbs, some mayo, the rest of the chopped salmon (so you know it’s fresh!) and spices. Then, we’re going to form patties, dredge them in the rest of the rind crumbs and fry ’em up!

It’s like being 11, all over again!

Note: A 4-oz bag of rinds will yield about 1-cup of “rind crumbs”.


Turnip-Celeriac Hash Browns

Turnip-Celeriac Hash BrownsI cook all sorts of things, pretty regularly. I’m always experimenting, testing, refining, tweaking, tuning and pruning. Not everything I cook winds up on the website. There are some things that simply don’t make the cut. Usually things that don’t make the cut get nixed because they just simply weren’t delicious. However, some of the time, I’ll post something that wasn’t delicious, because there’s a lesson in it, or I just wanted to rant and thought the angle might be amusing. There are also the times that things don’t get posted because the results simply don’t match my vision and I’d like to continue refining the direction, until I bring it into harmony.

Of all the things I’ve posted, this is the one that is most dangerously close to being cut. It made it, but only by a hair, and only because it’s undeniably tasty. As it sat there … I noticed I kept walking over to it and taking bites. In fact, I work with a wonderful photographer who helps me make the photos look bright and colorful. Even HE kept sneaking little bites. We both acknowledged how tasty this was! These are the reasons you’re reading this. It was … just … that … yummy.

HOWEVER! It was a weird mess to make and I think it would be near impossible for most.

First, you need to grate the raw vegetables through a cheese grater. Ok, no problem. Then, you need to season the grated mixture and let it sit around for 20 minutes, while the salt pulls the extra moisture out of the veggies. Still … no problem. Now, you need to squeeze the extra moisture out of these grated roots. Suddenly, you’ve been hurled into a world of slimy snork. Grab a big handful of the stuff and SQUEEZE between your two hands, letting the off-white goo ooze between your fingers. Now, it becomes a bit odd. Still … ok … this COULD still be yum. Let’s keep going!

Now, heat up a pan with some oil. Not too hot, so it doesn’t burn. Sprinkle your dry-ish strands of grated root veggies over the hot rippling oil, while it splatters and sputters. Keep going, until it’s a thick layer of hash.

Hash browns made out of potatoes stick together because potatoes are FILLED with gummy starch. Each strand grabs onto the strand next to it, forming a bonded potato starch matrix, which is easy to move around, flip, browns nicely, etc. HOWEVER, these ingredients have very few carbs; no real sugar or starch acting as glue and nothing to really caramelize (turn into a nice brown color). In essence, we have a pan filled with 10’s of thousands of little tiny sticks, simply resting on one another in a hot pan. They’re not glued together. They are … independent of one another. Furthermore, they go from white to black, in the blink of an eye. There is middle ground; no tanning or browning.

Knowing that there was nothing to hold these sticks together, I was really stressing the moment where I had to flip this monster hash and cook the other side. Thankfully … I’m a professional!

I grabbed my biggest plastic spatula, put out roadblock signs and taped off the area. I made sure the coast was clear. I took my big pan, slid my spatula under the quickly burning pile of root-twigs, dropped the pan in a smooth controlled motion. Then, just as deliberately, began a controlled push upwards. All in one calculated move, I allowed the inertia of the upwardly mobile mixture to continue into the air, while I abruptly stopped the pan in midair. With the spatula, I did my best to coax as many of the little strands into doing a midair 180 spin, in unison, landing flatly back into the waiting pan.

I’ve done this a million times. If there’s something holding it together … no problem! If there isn’t … well … that’s a whole different kettle of fish!

About 25% of the mixture decided they knew better than the spatula and headed for freedom on my kitchen floor. The other 75% did land more or less neatly in the center of my pan. From there, I was able to rest the pan back on the stovetop, while it cooked. I grabbed the mop bucket.

Once I was sure it had cooked through, I tilted the plan and slid it onto the plate, the photographer took the picture, we grabbed some ketchup and … nibbled away.

Yep! It was THAT good!


Ginger Shrimp Cakes

Ginger Shrimp CakesHave you ever had “shrimp toast”? It’s usually found in Chinese “Dim Sum” restaurants. It’s basically a gingery shrimp paste, which has been spread on toast, then the whole thing is fried into a crunchy, greasy triangle of hot crispy yumminess. I LOVE Shrimp Toast. It’s very possibly one of my favorite things!

These cakes approximate the same flavor as Shrimp Toast. They are very slightly spicy, definitely shrimpy, tastes shrimpy and has some solid sesame notes. One of the missing pieces of the puzzle is the crispity sensation of the fried toast points, but … life without toast is much brighter!

These little Chinese inspired Shrimp Cakes are quite easy to make, very appropriate for any low-carb way of eating, including induction, and are very likely a bit off the beaten path. Put a few of these on a light salad, or serve it alongside some UBER Crack Slaw and you’ve got a really great meal!


Curried Cauliflower Cakes

Curried Cauliflower CakesYou ever have one of those days? The kind of day where it starts wrong and just stays wrong, all day long? The kind of day where you wake up with a headache and a foul temper and you just sort of perpetuate your own misery by making poor decisions, stomping around in a grumpy manner and being generally irritable?

Yeah … me neither!

I was having one of those days on the day I created these. In retrospect, I’m a little embarrassed because I remember taking the pan of hot fresh cauliflower cakes and just slamming them on my crusty old cutting board, where they were just kind of mushed. I had just about had enough of the day. I grabbed some of the spices, put them on the cutting board and got the photo taken.

There was precisely zero love put into these photos. I was being a sourpuss when these shots were taken and … it shows. I see these and … I cringe.

Please don’t let my cantankerous little mini-tantrum stop you from trying to make these things. They were EXCELLENT! Deceptively tasty, in fact! They were soft, a little sweet, complex and spicy. They were outstanding, in fact!

A perfect food.


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