Five Things To Do Before You Diet

Most people think that dieting means deprivation, and that success is a never ending vigilance based on denial. Breaking the chain of failure sometimes can be as simple as recasting ideas into less traumatic concepts. Cooking a lot also means eating a lot, and the result over thirty years for me had been more weight, higher blood pressure, high cholesterol, heartburn and high blood sugar. A few years ago, I decided to do something about it. While I can’t say I’ve slimmed down to svelte proportions, I did lose twenty-five pounds and have kept them off, and am much healthier than a few years ago.

Like many people, calorie-counting and prepared meals are just not in my lifestyle, but I did find some ideas that worked for me. These five ideas might jump-start your own healthy changes.

Lose empty calories—One of the first things I did was cut way down on empty sugar calories from soft drinks, fruit drinks and juices. Most of my carbonated fix was changed to seltzer water and lime, or just a bit (1 ounce) of orange or cranberry juice added. I started by substituting half a soft drink for seltzer and after awhile, I actually preferred the more diluted (but just as fizzy) drinks. That one change probably shaved 1200 calories off my weekly total. And don’t think that diet drinks are the answer. Most artificial sweeteners trigger the same metabolic reactions in your body as actual sugars, and the end result can be almost as bad as not giving up sugar at all.

Become more moderate—Eating half your usual amount of a treat, or substituting something with less calories is better than skipping things altogether. The urge for a second (or third) helping might be a difficult habit to break, but by starting with less on your plate, those second helpings tend to be smaller too, and the total result will be fewer calories. Substituting higher-calorie treats with others that are just as fulfilling on a regular basis can make a real difference without feeling like deprivation. Changing out a 300-calorie donut for a 100-calorie biscotti might seem like a small help. but if your routine includes a coffee break at mid-morning, a change like that saves 1000 calories in a workweek.

Don’t be fooled by low-fat substitutes—Fat has become a dirty word, and all the evils of weight gain have been heaped on fat. But most lower-fat versions of things make up the difference with more sugar, or the difference is so small (cutting half the fat in a Triscut only changes the calorie count by 5 calories a serving) that substitution is no real change at best, and a marketer’s manipulation at worst. It’s true that transfats are really bad for you, saturated fats aren’t that good for you, but plenty of fats are unsaturated—olive oil, avocados, and most oils used in baked things are not saturated (with the exception of lard, but that is used less and less these days). Fat is just another element in the makeup of nutrients that we need. And we need fats to make our bodies work correctly. Instead of substituting low-fat alternatives, just eat less, and check the labels to see if the different versions of a product really make a difference in real calories.

Avoid highly processed foods—canned soups, deli-style lunch meats, snack foods, and fast-food meals contain high amounts of sodium, and are high in calories too.

Create new habits—We are creatures of habit, and routine is good for our bodies, but not when you develop unconscious strategies for dealing with stress, boredom, or moods of all kinds with food. I realized that a lot of my snacking was habitual. I eat when I am bored; I eat when I am frustrated with work; and—probably the worst—I eat as a reward. Skipping lunch does not qualify as a virtuous act that should be rewarded with an extra-big dinner. Finishing a task or winning something is no excuse for eating. It is just a habit, and if you take a dispassionate look at how you go through your day, you’ll probably find routines that can be displaced with other, less food-imbibing activities.

Cook at home—The best way to become aware of what you put in your body is to make the meals yourself. Cooking takes energy,

Thanksgiving Muffins—and Other Recipes That Didn’t Get into DxD

The most frustrating factor about Delicious by Design: 30 Years/30 Recipes was my own fault. I limited the number of dishes in the book tying the title into our anniversary. When I realized that I had so many great recipes, and that the promotion needed to get bigger, I cheated by making a distinction between side dishes and main dishes to keep the theme, but allow for more content.

That still wasn’t enough. There are great dishes that didn’t make it into the book, so I am remedying that by adding new recipes to this site. These first three are all amazing—and amazingly easy to prepare.

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, you have got to try making the Stuffin’ Muffins. If your guests’ response is anything like mine, they will be the hit of the dinner. In fact, I can’t imagine a more satisfying menu for Thanksgiving than these Stuffin’ Muffins, along with the De-Boned Herbed Turkey Breast, The Simplest Sweet Potatoes and the Brussels Sprouts for Haters.

Let me know how you like the recipes. I’ll be adding more in the near future—including some desserts.

AURAS Celebrates 30 Years with Cookbook

When we began to contemplate how we were going to mark the 30th anniversary of AURAS Design, our idea was to produce a book of our past graphic design work. But, really, who wants to look at that more than once? Not that we aren’t proud of the work we’ve done, but we wanted to create something that people would actually enjoy using and refer to now and again.

Then, an obvious idea sprung to mind: let’s make a cookbook. After all, cooking is a lot like designing. There’s a lot of thought put into the ingredients; it takes technique and tools to produce excellent work; and if everything works just right, the end result is pretty tasty.

Maybe that’s why I have enjoyed cooking since I was old enough to hold a spatula. In college, with nothing more than a hot plate and toaster oven, I learned how to prepare meals. AURAS has produced work for hundreds of clients over the last three decades, but now, here’s an opportunity to see what we might have created if things had gone just a bit differently.

In fact, the lure of opening a restaurant has always been a siren call for me. I think I have mentioned it so many times that my more sensible other half, Helen Rea, merely goes “Whoop-whoop”—indicating the alarm bells that should be going off in my head. Restaurants, like Broadway shows and Internet start-ups, are a high-risk long shot. They make running a design studio seem like a sensible business—even these days.

Food has always been an important part of celebration at AURAS. For years, our holiday parties have been renowned for the great food—mostly cooked by us. Our holiday staff retreats were always chosen for the quality of the food, whether it was a limo trip to the Inn at Little Washington or an overnight stay at l’Auberge Provençal. We have always kept ourselves caffeinated and content by stocking the finest foodstuffs for everyone to enjoy.

Featured Recipe: Swordfish with Avocado Coulis

When our studio was on Kalorama Road, many mornings on the way to work I would stop by Posin’s, the late, lamented D.C. Jewish supermarket, and buy donuts, cupcakes and freshly made rye bread for the studio. The bread was too warm to bag and too delicious not to steal the crusty end slices as I headed down 13th Street.

Having a full kitchen has always been an important part of the plan, wherever our studio has been. The long-time people at AURAS warn newcomers about “The AURAS Ten”—the weight that is bound to be put on from the abundance of good stuff around the shop. On summer afternoons at the Kalorama studio, taking a break for former employee Marty Ittner’s guacamole was a welcome treat; on snow days, I often make a hearty vegetable soup to entice the crew to brave the elements. And all year long there is coffee, whether an afternoon cappuccino break or simply a strong, bracing cup of Peet’s, freshly ground and shipped directly to the studio. For many new employees, the first challenge of working at AURAS was learning to appreciate that super-strong brew. If nothing else, AURAS was way ahead of the coffee-crazed curve.

So, think of Delicious by Design as the restaurant that never was. Within the pages are recipes that have been prepared and tweaked over the years. They are heavy on comfort and powerful in taste. And in the back, we’ve allowed ourselves a few pages for a history of our studio and some examples of AURAS design work.

Renée Comet was excited to become part of this project and brought Lisa Cherkasky along to prepare and style the food. Together we mapped out a simple strategy: every picture should look so tasty that readers might be inclined to lick the page—that was the extent of the art direction. I have always believed that you should let talented people do what they do best and try to stay out of the way.

We’d like to know what you think of this book—especially how you like the recipes—and give you a chance to see some behind-the-scenes action at the photo shoot—plus a few recipes that didn’t make it into the book.

Bon appétit! —RS