Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Only Thing Better than Pumpkins is Pumpkin Cupcakes!

For the first time, I baked pumpkin spice cupcakes with cinnamon cream cheese frosting.

There are so many things I love about the fall-- hot chocolate, snuggling under the covers, boots, holidays, the the smell of cider and pumpkins ... I could go on and on. One of my favorite fall pastimes, one that I am sadly not taking part in at the moment (see 17 Day Diet blog post), are the sweets. From thick-crusted pies to Christmas sugar cookies and everything in between, this season just isn't the same without these cavity-inducing, body-bloating bits of sugary goodness. And I decided that just because I'm not indulging at the moment doesn't mean I shouldn't spread the joy of seasonal sweets to those around me. Plus, I'm pretty much down for any excuse to bake cupcakes.

This particular recipe has been very well received by everyone I pawned my cupcakes off on so I wouldn't eat them myself, so I thought I would share! I mix-matched two recipes I found at (that's enough to call it my own, right? .. okay fine. I stole it. Sue me.) They came out perfectly moist and fluffy, so I at least take a little credit for that part (Lesson number 1 of cupcake baking: Burning them is never good).

If you're in the mood to bake, get ready to Apron Up! I'm trying to coin "Apron Up". It's like Suit Up, or Saddle Up. Cute right?

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes:

4 eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
1 (15 oz) can of pumpkin
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup corn starch
4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (I think the next time I make it I will use 5 teaspoons to punch up the flavor even more)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Blend together eggs, oil, sugar, and pumpkin. In a separate bowl mix together flour, corn starch, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add dry mixture in to wet ingredients and blend until smooth. Fill a cupcake pan with cupcake liners (bonus points if you have cute fall-themed liners), and fill each to about 2/3 full (sometimes I push it and go to 3/4 full because I like my cupcakes to have junk in the trunk). Bake for 25 minutes.

Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting:

1 (8 oz) package of cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened
3 cups confectioners sugar (if you like a frosting that's less sweet, I would recommend 2 or 2 1/2 cups)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I put more like 2 teaspoons and it was fabulously cinnamon, but 1 teaspoon is good too)

Beat the cream cheese and butter together until smooth. Add in the confectioners sugar a little at a time, and finally add in the vanilla and cinnamon.

WARNING: Frosting is highly addictive, and nibbling while baking will likely occur.

Here are mine:

My pumpkins look like basketballs.. but I decided not to care because I was running late.

And there you have it! It's a pretty simple recipe, and SUPER delicious. Plus thematically they last all the way through Thanksgiving, so get baking kids!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Who doesn't love dieting? Oh, wait, EVERYONE.

For the first time I tried the 17 Day Diet. This diet is the brainchild of Dr. Michael Moreno aka "Dr. Mike," who apparently did his residency at the hospital I was born in in Fontana, California (No, that's not why I tried the diet. That would be weird. Just a fun fact!).

The diet consists of four consecutive cycles , each lasting for-- you guessed it!-- 17 days. Now I didn't buy the book so I'm not 100% positive I am following the rules correctly, but I get the main gist of what you are supposed to do. The first cycle basically limits your diet to lean meats, fruits, veggies, yogurt, and cottage cheese. You can eat as much of these food items as you want as there is no calorie-counting involved. The cycles then get less limiting as you go, slowly adding back in healthy carbs, low calorie snacks, meats with a higher fat content, and limited amounts of alcohol. By the time you get to cycle 4, you should be able to have 2 or 3 "cheat" meals where you have whatever you want. Since you're eating healthy the rest of the week, it shouldn't cause weight gain. However, if you do feel like you are starting to gain some weight back, or if you get to cycle 4 but want to lose more weight before you start maintaining, you can choose to go back to cycle 1, 2, or 3. Each cycle may seem tough for someone with no will power (like me), but Dr. Mike's argument is that anyone can do anything for 17 days.

I am currently somewhere in Cycle 3 (I kind of stopped counting, oops), and from my perspective in order to succeed in this diet, variety is key. In the first cycle you are pretty much limited to lean meat, fruits and veggies, so if you eat green beans every day you'll probably go insane. My strategy was to shop every four days or so, and only shop for the upcoming four days. That way I can buy just one of four different types of fruit, veggies, etc. Sometimes I get lazy and end up eating the same foods three days in a row, but for the most part I've been pretty good about mixing it up. It really helps in the beginning when you are getting used to eating so little.

The point of this diet is to change your eating habits, so the challenge becomes finding a way to transition from feeling like you are dieting to deciding that this is just the way you eat now. I'm still in the "diet" part, so I'm not really sure how I'll react when I get to that point. What I do know is no one can diet forever, so it will become crucial that my mental state becomes one of "this is how I eat now, I live a healthy lifestyle" rather than "I am eating this way because I am on a diet and trying to lose weight." If anyone has suggestions (other than therapy, too expensive), let me know!

In terms of results, if you can actually stick with this diet, it works (once again, whether it sticks is not something I can attest to yet). Now even I cheat a little-- I have allowed dairy products like low-fat string cheese and skim milk in my coffee/chai from the beginning because I couldn't live without a little dairy-- but sticking to the general outline of this diet will lead to results. It also obviously helps to work out along with the diet and you will see results much faster. The point is, like all diets, yes sometimes it sucks, but any serious weight loss is not going to be a walk through the park. So if that's what you're expecting, this is not the diet for you. As for me, I plan to see it through!