Pure Inspiration … plus Zoodles, BBQ Beef & Chicken Nuggets!


As most of you know, my story ran in the Huffington Post, about a week ago. This has made for an incredibly exciting week, as my website was flooded with new visitors. I’ve received countless emails compliments and encouragements from all over the planet. THANK YOU, EVERYONE! It has just been tremendous! I can’t express enough appreciation for all of your kind words.

In an effort to stay abreast of all the traffic, I focused on answering emails as quickly as possible. I’m positive I overlooked a few; they came in so quickly and haphazardly. I do believe I responded to most (in an equally haphazard fashion). If I missed your email or I didn’t fully address your question, simply comment on my facebook page or contact me via email. I do apologize to anyone I may have missed. There were about 2 days where I was just swimming in eCommunication. Good times!

During that whirlwind of activity, one story really caught my eye. A woman named GinaMarie popped onto my Facebook page to say hello and mentioned she’d dropped 125 lbs. Having lost over 100 lbs. myself, I know what kind of meaningful life change that really is. I asked her for her story.

She complied!

GinaMarie Duca

I’ve never really done this before, but LOVE reading other stories of inspiration. It really helps to keep me motivated. Not wanting to make poor GinaMarie work too hard, I sent her a simple list of questions. Within about 20 minutes, she’d sent back her story and photos.

Off we go!

DJ: What was your “before” weight?

GinaMarie: Somewhere around 215lbs. I stopped looking at scales around then and got rid of the one I had. I no longer own a scale. When I decided I was going to lose weight, I also decided I was going to gauge it by how I looked and felt and not aim for some arbitrary number.

DJ: What was it like, before hand?

GinaMarie: I pretty much wore the same five outfits that fit over and over to avoid clothing stores and dressing rooms. Dressy functions scared me because most of the time, I wouldn’t fit into anything I already owned; I had gotten too big for them. There were a lot of things that I couldn’t control in my life going on around me and food was something I could control. I really had given up caring what I looked like. Even mentally, I just didn’t “see” it.

DJ: What caused you to make the change?

GinaMarie: A few things. A trip to a clothing store and another size increase revealed I was barely fitting into a size 18. Mentioning it to a friend who suggested I try a low carb lifestyle. Considering I was hypoglycemic (and living in denial of that as well) I thought it would be a good fit. I had just turned 40. I simply wasn’t happy.

DJ: How did you do it? Was exercise involved?

GinaMarie: I did a fair amount of reading about my new food choices, a tremendous amount of asking questions to people who knew more than I did and spent a lot of time looking for ways to blend “my way” of eating with a family of four who didn’t require a change in their diet. I spent the first two weeks VERY cranky, my coworker Stacey literally brought a slice of bread to work near the end of those two weeks and begged me to eat it. As for exercise, I did that as well from the beginning. I started out walking a mile each day and decided it would be faster if I rode a bike instead. A mile turned into 2, then 4…till I was averaging about 60-70 miles a week. I did 20-30 minutes of weight training daily as well. I began belly dancing and attending Zumba classes in the winter because snow and bike riding just doesn’t work out very well 😉 To this day I tell people if you don’t find an exercise you love, you will never stick with it. To this day, biking isn’t exercise to me. I just like it.

DJ: What was your “after” weight?

GinaMarie: Again, I still don’t own a scale. My size is somewhere around a six.

DJ: Please describe the process from “before” to “after”. How has your life changed as a result of the change? Were there any unexpected benefits?

GinaMarie: I think I’ve exceeded the limit on how many things can change in the past few years! The first thing I noticed was a huge increase in energy. Basic things just no longer felt like they required a tremendous amount of effort to do. I had plenty of energy at the end of the day and I didn’t wake up feeling sluggish. I have no difficulty doing long distance bike rides.

I had to figure out how to dress my body over the course of many different sizes along the way. Bless the bloggers who can teach you how to thrift, borrow, belt and pin your way through your wardrobe changes! I took a fair amount of photos during that time because I still have a hard time “seeing” the differences in the mirror. …

Before and After

(Note from DJ: Now if that isn’t just a complete and total transformation, I don’t know what is. GinaMarie, you look stunning. Amazing! RADIANT!)

GinaMarie: … Probably the strangest change is that people who haven’t seen me in a few years don’t recognize me. It can be a bit disconcerting. They also don’t think I’m as old as I really am.

DJ: If you could tell another person struggling with their weight one thing, what would it be?

GinaMarie: That for every pound they want to lose, they have an “I can’t” attached to it. I can’t eat this way, I’m Italian, I love pasta! I can’t exercise, I have bad knees. I can’t cook this way, my family won’t like it. I can’t lose weight, I have a slow metabolism.

I had the same feelings once. They’re called excuses and they’re disguised in your mind as the reasons you can’t do something that seems overwhelming at the time. Change is hard at first because your comfortable with what’s familiar. Once you get past the fear that it’s not that scary to change, those changes will become your new familiar and you’ll wonder how you ever lived with your older patterns.

DJ: Thank you so much for your story! I relate to so much of it!

GinaMarie: Blushes….you’re welcome 🙂

And Now, Deep Thoughts …

I see SO much of myself in GinaMarie’s story. The way clothes fit is such a big part of it all. I once had a special Chef jacket that I would wear to special events. About a year had passed since I’d last worn it. Suddenly I had a high profile catering gig to attend. I wore my Upscale Chef jacket and … it was skin tight; like a girdle! Some of my belly parts felt like they were squooshing out the bottom and I couldn’t really move my arms in front of me, without ripping out the back. I had been getting ready at a friends house, when I stepped out the shower and put it on. Because I wasn’t at home, I didn’t have any backups with me. This one suddenly tiny little jacket was all I had. I had to go out and face thousands of people, for hours; like an egg in a rubber band. I had no alternative. I was horrified.

I’m not usually one to blubber, but … I literally almost burst into tears when I put that jacket on. I was DEVASTATED. When I finally emerged from that bathroom, my friend HAD to know I had just been crushed by something.

For many of us that have given up, time moves forward and we aren’t as aware of the change. It’s easy to overlook slow, steady growth. I really had no idea how much bigger I’d become. That moment hit me SO hard.

A few months after the jacket incident, I put my foot down, made it a priority and turned it all around, but … those little moments, those memories and realizations are a big part of what keep me on track today.

I always liked this little quote …

Choose your hard

On with the recipes!

~ DJ

Zoodle Fettucini

Zoodle FettuciniZoodles! I just love saying that. It’s impossible to say the word “ZOODLES!” and not crack a smile. Try it. I dare you! Did you smile? Told you! ?

A while back, I wrote a fairly extensive blog post on pasta and various forms of noodles (about halfway down the post). At the time, I hadn’t actually made zoodles for my website, and felt a bit silly having not. So, I set out to make them as a recipe! Zoodles are just zucchini cut into strips. They approximate the sense of pasta in that they’re roughly the same shape, they don’t have a lot of flavor on their own and they serve as a fantastic vehicle for “sauce” and other goodies.

Traditional pasta has gluten holding it together. While it’s possible to overcook it, it’ll still be a noodle when you’re done cooking it. It IS possible, however, to overcook zoodles. If you were to throw a handful of freshly cut zoodles into a cauldron of hot gurgling sauce, the zoodles would release all their water and break down in just a few minutes. They would become “one with the sauce” and won’t really be very zoodle-y, any longer.

This is where some of these little tricks come in.

First, you need to cut the zoodles. There are all kinds of tools for this. The most basic is a standard vegetable peeler. Just peel the zucchini, deeper and deeper. You’ll create a series of imperfect, but flat wide “zoodles”, which will resemble green pappardelle. Alternately, you can use something like the Spirooli. I personally don’t like these much and prefer to go with a more standard flat mandoline.

In the photos, you’ll see that I cut mine with a flat mandoline. In my case, I created thick strips of zucchini, then stacked the strips upon one another, then cut them into 1/3 inch strips with a knife. This approach gives me a heartier zoodle, with a bit more texture and bite. However, you can make them thinner, thicker, etc. It’s all personal preference.

Once you’ve got the zoodles cut, many will simply pop them into a microwaveable container and nuke them for a minute or two. This will create a hot bed of zoodles. This is, without question, a way you can go!

My method is a little different, but tends to have a little more flavor and … love … cooked into it. It takes a little longer, but I feel the results have that little something extra.

Once you’ve got your cooked zoodles, top them with any number of sauces. How about some nice Marinara Sauce or a nice thick goopy alfredo sauce?


Slow Cooker BBQ Beef Brisket

Slow Cooker BBQ Beef BrisketWhat we have here is my third stab at a slow cooker recipe. It is, in fact, also the third time I’ve ever used a slow cooker in my life. As of this writing, I’ve actually created about 7 recipes, but these notes are about the third one.

So far, it’s been my observation that extra liquid isn’t necessary in just about every slow-cooker recipe that I’ve read. It’s my belief that this liquid is usually added so that the ingredients are “submerged”, which seems intended to make the slow cookers “feel good”. However, in the end, this tends to create a big puddle of watered down dinner.

I’m not an expert with these things, by any stretch of the imagination. However, let me explain a little bit about what I feel is happening.

Most all ingredients contain some amount of water. When you heat them up, portions of the water are released. In reality, you don’t even necessarily need heat. Salt, for example, will also pull the moisture out of an ingredient. Interestingly, so does water (and the nefarious sugar!), but … we’re trying to limit the amount of water (and sugar!), not increase it.

It is my stance that if everything within a crock pot is well seasoned, that the salt and heat will pull the moisture out of the ingredients. This moisture is also FLAVORFUL, being the pure essence of the ingredients. As the ingredients cook in the moisture, they continue breaking down, releasing more flavorful liquids, resulting in the whole kit and caboodle being submerged, anyway.

“What about the first view hours, before the liquid comes out?” you might ask. The slow cooker is pretty hot under that lid. Foods suspended by other ingredients are still getting large blasts of slow and consistent heat from being within a hot and moist environment. Water vapor is all around your ingredients and cooking everything right along! I DO feel there should be at least a very small amount of liquid on the bottom, to just get the ball rolling, but … only a tiny amount. More will follow!

I suggest reducing the amounts of water in any future slow cooker recipe you might have. I think you’ll find it results in more flavor and a slightly more moist and tender product!

Anywhoo … in this case, I wanted to go with what I think Slow Cookers are used for, anyway: ease and simplicity. This recipe has really has only 2 ingredients, takes only a few minutes to sear the meat and … 8 hours later … you’re done! YUM!


Chicken Nuggets

Chicken NuggetsHere’s a fun one, and one that’s likely to delight the whole family! I had some friends over when I made this and asked them to honestly tell me if they could tell that they’ve been de-carbed. They all agreed that there was no lack of flavor and that they were as good, if not better than, the real carb-full thing.

These are a bit messy to make, but I agree with my friends. They were outstanding. In fact, I was frankly caught a little off guard by how wonderful this little chicken nibblets turned out to be. They were golden brown, flavorful, had a spectacular texture and were full of moist and juicy goodness.

Normally, the procedure for breading and frying would be dredge in seasoned flour (to help the eggs adhere to the “goodie”). Then, it would go into an egg bath, followed by being dredged in a seasoned bread crumb mixture. From there, it would be fried (usually in some kind of vegetable oil garbage).

We’re going to right several of those wrongs, by eliminating wheat, an overwhelming majority of the carbs and then fry them in a healthy, stable, high temperature fat.

Dredge Note: I REALLY thought about dredging these in coconut flour, prior to placing them in the egg bath. It would have made them very very slightly “sweet”, but… virtually undetectable in flavor. The idea was to help the eggs and almond meal/parmesan mixture adhere to the “nuggets” with a little more intensity. I opted to go for a more pure Mediterranean flavor and skipped that step. It turns out that it wasn’t necessary!

Fat Note: Good “high smoke point” oils for frying are: coconut oil, lard palm oil, and clarified butter (ghee). Avoid hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils and manmade trans-fats. Processed oils like canola, corn, vegetable and soybean should be avoided.

Note: Photo is taken with Homemade BBQ Sauce, but these are also EXCELLENT with Marinara made with San Marzano Tomatoes.


Sweet and Tangy BBQ Sauce

Sweet and Tangy BBQ SauceI am often asked what my favorite BBQ sauce is. I’m asked just as often where people can find MY BBQ sauce recipe. To be perfectly frank, I’m occasionally lazy and have slipped completely into the habit of purchasing BBQ sauce, having never attempted to crack the sugar-free BBQ code, myself. Having MADE lots of BBQ Sauces in my past, it’s not something that I’m new to; I just haven’t ever tried to remove all the sugar from it.

To my mind, a good BBQ sauce has some spice to it, a bit of smokiness, definitely some sweet, but above all, it should have TANG! There should almost be pain coming from the inhalation of its vapor. I LOVE a VERY strong and vinegary BBQ sauce.

The following recipe is somewhat toned down from what I would personally make (if you want to get closer to my personal preference, double the vinegar), but this recipe is by no means lacking in flavor. It’s everything a good BBQ sauce should be, but without the unnecessary carbs!

All I can say is, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it!

Note: Makes about 2 cups of sauce. Recipe is calculated for 16 two-tablespoon servings.


Marinara Sauce AKA Neapolitan Sauce AKA Napoli Sauce AKA La Salsa

Marinara Sauce AKA Neapolitan Sauce AKA Napoli Sauce AKA La SalsaHere’s something I didn’t know! Marinara sauce, to Americans, is kinda-sorta not really properly named! In most all other countries “Marinara” includes seafood! (hint hint: marine)

Because this site isn’t totally geared for American audiences (even though about 90% are from the US), various UK, Australian and other English speaking countries (not sure about Canada … they might call it the same thing as the US). Hey, Canada! Does the word “marinara” invoke thoughts of seafood, or the dipping sauce that goes with your mozzarella sticks? Inquiring minds want to know!


The sauce that most Americans know as “Marinara” is actually more in line with “Neapolitan Sauce”, harking from Naples, Italy. Funnily enough, if you were an American in Naples and asked for “La Salsa”, you’d get Marinara!

It’s sort of like how every other country calls soccer “football”, except the US, where we have an entirely different game we call football.

Back to the story at hand … Napoli Sauce is basically a tomato based sauce, cooked with tomatoes and onions. That’s about it!

This is also a chance to talk a little bit about canned San Marzano Tomatoes. Legend has it that the first San Marzano tomato seeds were a gift from the King of Peru to the King of Naples sometime during the 1770s. These seeds were then planted near the city of San Marzano in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. From these seeds, crossbreeding and careful selection led to the current day San Marzano tomato.

Sometimes legends lie. The reality is far murkier, with the first actual “printed” mention of San Marzano Tomatoes appearing in an American agricultural book put out by the USDA mentions them in cans, in 1894. In 1902, some Italian documents mention that they are a cross between 3 other varieties: King Umberto, Fiaschella, and the Fiascona.

What IS true is that true San Marzano Tomatoes are grown in the volcanic soil of Mount Vesuvius near Naples, Italy. They are harvested when ripe, as the sun goes down. They are sweet, fleshy, high in pectin (thicker sauces), low in seeds, bright red and easy to peel. Oh! And, they look like an elongated Roma Tomato.

The primary reason for San Marzano Tomatoes being such a big deal is, they are reliable and delicious. When it’s not summertime and amazing local tomatoes are not available, these sweet tomatoes, canned at their absolute peak, are the way to go. Many Chefs will do a little happy dance for the real thing. For TRUE San Marzano Tomatoes, from Italy, look for the DOP seal, indicating “Designation of Origin”. Seeds have travelled outside the region and are also canned, but they are not grown in the same soil, or picked by the same standards. So, while many canned “San Marzano Tomatoes” are actually spawned from the same seed … they are not the same thing. Buyer beware.

Two suggestions for purchasing online … Strianese Whole Peeled D.O.P. San Marzano Tomatoes ““ These are true canned tomatoes, imported from Italy. As of these writings, they are $10.40 US, per can. YIKES!

Carmelina ‘e San Marzano Italian Peeled Tomatoes in Puree – This is what I use. These are from the same source, have no added flavors and are packed in puree, rather than sauce. The end result is tasty, sweet and not watered down. Sure, they’re not TRUE San Marzano’s, but they’re close enough and at less than $3.00 US per can, I’m willing to sacrifice a tiny difference in quality … for a canned product.

Note: Pictures are taken with Chicken Nuggets.


STANDARD FTC DISCLOSURE: In order for me to support my blogging activities, I may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog. Please note, I only ever endorse products that are in alignment with my ideals and I believe would be of value to my readers.

Leave a Comment