Other things are just food. But chocolate’s chocolate.

172824-chocolate-heart-of-chocolateMany people believe that our palate weakens as we age, our sense of smell diminishes, and our taste buds dull or, even worse, deaden over time. This may be true about the taste of many foods, except for one delicious mouth-watering delight; the one sensational flavor that is just as sweet, as intense and as wondrous as ever – the smooth taste of chocolate. As a little girl my face would burn red at the sight of an open box. My mother thought I had developed some sort of sensitivity to it. No mom, I was not allergic to chocolate. I simply and unequivocally adored it. In fact today I couldn’t live in a world without chocolate, could you? I imagine that G-d himself was present to meet Mr. Hershey when he arrived in heaven and asked, “Milton, did you bring the chocolate?”

To be honest, I wouldn’t last one day if I thought I’d have to completely eliminate chocolate from my diet. I’m perfectly happy tracking food and going without most carbs, sugar and fat, as long as I know I can still have the stuff that melts in your mouth and sometimes in your hand. Most people who strive to lose weight know they must work hard to find the right time and place for chocolate. For me, its the time when all the day’s work is complete, when dinner has come and gone, and the dishes have all been washed and accounted for. It’s long after I’ve dropped the last teenager at dance or returned the overdue books to the library, and even after my dog Rambo is back from one last sprint around the block. That’s the moment when I’ll make my move towards the kitchen for something luscious, satisfying and chocolate. The darker, the better.

The people at Weight Watchers think it’s possible to have your chocolate and eat it too and so do I. Here are some suggestions for how to enjoy the best food on the planet without wreaking havoc on your weight loss goals. Of course, if you are following a plan to lose weight, save some points and/or calories from your daily intake and enjoy.

Chocolate PuddingHomemade Chocolate Pudding – You can do this!!! A delicious 4 oz serving is 4 ppl. It’s not sugar-free or fat-free or laden with aspartame – it’s just clean food, Yum!!! (You can lower the points value by switching to a lower fat milk and also, it is delicious frozen too.) A large batch can be stored in the fridge for up to 1 week. Ingredients: 2 cups whole milk, 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, 5 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, 2 tablespoons cornstarch, 2 tablespoons water, 1 teaspoon pure vanilla or almond extract. Directions: In a medium saucepan, combine milk and butter. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring gently to melt butter. In a small bowl, combine sugar, cocoa and cornstarch — add water and mix to create a paste. Add paste into milk mixture and whisk well to combine. Raise heat to medium and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon until thick and bubbly, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in extract. Transfer to a bowl or 4 dessert cups and cover with plastic wrap (make sure the plastic is touching the pudding to prevent a skin from forming). Refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Dark Chocolate Chip Almond Milk Popsicle – 2 ppl* – Add 1/3 c. Silk Dark Chocolate Almond Milk into each Popsicle tumbler. About half-way through the freezing process add 1-1/2 tsp of mini chocolate chips. I love these because they are low in points and just as good (actually better) than store-bought low-calorie Fudgicles and so much healthier for you. You can freeze any flavor almond milk that you like, it’s delicious.

8_24a 001Chocolate Hazelnut Crackers – Four wheat thins dipped in 1-1/2 teaspoons Nutella (or other hazelnut spread) – 3 ppl. Savor these with a cup of decaf green tea and the only thing it will trigger is pure joy.

Feel free to join the party at the next campfire with this Safe Skinny S’more – Two graham crackers with one roasted marshmallow and one small square of dark chocolate – 4 ppl.

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Chocolate Covered Pretzels Melt two squares of dark chocolate in a double boiler. When chocolate is completely melted dip low-fat home-style pretzels in the chocolate. Place on plate lined with parchment paper and put in the freezer for about 15 minutes. You can also dip pretzels in unsweetened coconut flakes and/jimmies before freezing. I like to keep it simple. 2 ppl per pretzel

Take this Chocolate Trail Mix to the movies for a satisfying snack – Eight almonds, 4 chocolate chips, and 1 tablespoon raisins – 4 ppl.

8_24a 003Chocolate Covered Strawberries – Five strawberries dipped in two squares melted dark chocolate – 3 ppl. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, then remove from heat and dip strawberries in the chocolate. Line a plate with parchment paper and allow to cool.

*WW PointsPlus (ppl) calculations are my own with the help of WW eTools. For all of these recipes I used Hershey’s Special Dark Chocolate. Check nutrition facts carefully when cooking with chocolate, it can get a little tricky keeping track.

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What I did on my summer vacation – the good, the bad and the ugly.

acadia1One of the best places to visit in Maine and New England is Bar Harbor. It is known for its scenery— from its jagged, mostly rocky coastline, its low, rolling mountains, to the sweeping vistas from atop Cadillac Mountain, there is a special mystique to Bar Harbor not to be missed. Whether you’re in the mood for lobster, seafood, pasta, homemade desserts, breakfast, or any other favorites, there’s sure to be food here that you’ll savor and enjoy unless of course, you’re like me and want to lose weight even on vacation. Then, it seems you’re in for a whole mess of trouble.

IMG_1220“You’re on a diet in Maine?” The hostess at the Great Maine Breakfast place exclaimed. She must have overheard me talking to the waitress. What a silly mistake it was to try to explain why I didn’t finish the rest of my oatmeal. A silence fell over the restaurant, “No one can be on a diet here.” To which I launched into a speech about why, even on vacation I had to set limits on calorie intake. Lesson number one… be careful who you tell you’re watching your weight, their response may surprise you.

So what if there are people out there who aren’t supportive of others in their quest to eat right and stay fit? At home and at a recent WW meeting there was plenty of support to be had. Leaders strive to prepare you for all the bumps along the way. WW has devoted entire weekly newsletters to getting you through a summer holiday without breaking your points bank. “Hey, I got this…” or, so I thought. I was sure that I was up to the task. I’ve been there and done that from the Jersey shore to Disney World and back, in rain and in shine, with little to no damage done. This time it was supposed to be a cakewalk. It wasn’t. But wait, I’m already getting ahead of myself.

blueberry-pie“Well, the first thing I’ll do is head to the local supermarket to pick up some English muffins, laughing cow cheese, and veggies,” I declared at the Weight Watchers meeting a few days before going away. The Leader shook her head in agreement. Even I was pretty impressed. I wasn’t going to make any mistakes, but mistakes were made, and I wasn’t happy about it. Every day presented with hidden challenges, longings and a gnawing hunger. For a lot of the time, I yearned for the food I enjoyed as a child; the ice cream, candy and pizza beckoned me at every turn – not to mention the food that makes Maine famous, its seafood drenched in butter, the clam chowder, their wild blueberry pie.

To be honest, I did a lot of the right things while I was away, but it’s the mistakes you make that help you learn what not to do the next time, so here goes.

1. Never postpone the most important meal of the day – even if it means delaying the start of a long road trip. In our haste to begin a trek up north, my family opted to drive a couple of hours before stopping for the first meal of the day. At home, I could have prepared a five-point breakfast that would have held back hunger for hours. That was a mistake because by the time we reached our first rest stop near New York, I was already somewhat dazed from the ride, a little tired from the jaunt, and hungry and thirsty.

2. Take the time to check out what’s available from all the eating establishments. Near the very back of the state highway welcome center I could have snagged the yogurt, fruit, and crackers (5ppl), if only I had ventured back there. Instead, I opted to order the veggie egg white sandwich at the Dunkin Donuts near the entrance. The tasteless and gross sandwich was seven points. It was only my first meal on vacation and not a great sign of meals to come.

The perfect breakfast at This Way Cafe, Bar Harbor, ME

A great breakfast at This Way Cafe, Bar Harbor, ME

3. Take the time to scope out a restaurant before agreeing to eat there. We had plans to meet my sister and her boyfriend for dinner as soon as we arrived in Bar Harbor. We agreed to join them for lobster at a cute little place near Main Street. Once seated and armed with menus, I quickly realized I was in dire straits to find anything to eat within my points range. While lobsters are delicious and much beloved, almost maniacal, by many – it’s not my first choice or even my second. I think it’s their face sitting on the plate that makes me squeamish.

4. If you can’t find anything legal to eat at a restaurant, don’t be afraid to ask for advice from the server. I didn’t know what I was going to order. I took the waiter aside and whispered, “Is there anything on the menu that isn’t fried or breaded beside the lobster?” “The chef will make you fish and chips without the breading.” “Great!” Whew! I felt pretty excited that I had figured out a way to have the chef make me something off the menu. While I had the courage to ask for something completely different from anything on the menu, I still find myself holding back from asking about the butter an oil content. And, I really detest ordering anything dry.

4. Don’t forget to pack measuring cups Measuring cups and spoons are a major tool for staying within points range – but I left all three sets at home. Many times, it would have been so helpful to know how much I was eating. Weight watchers understands that eating out poses problems for its members and offers this advice but I need to memorize it.

•Your fist is equal to one medium fruit or one measured cup
•Your palm minus the fingers is a 3 ounce portion of cooked meat
•Your thumb (whole thumb, from tip to base) is equal to one ounce of meat or cheese
•Your thumb from the tip to the first joint is about 1 tablespoon
•Your index finger from the tip to the first joint is about 1 teaspoon

IMG_1277As my family took in the beautiful sights and sounds of Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park and the days of our trip passed, I managed to turn things around. With carrots and yogurt in the fridge and a positive attitude, I made it home lighter and happier than when I left. I even had a slice of pizza and many other meals-out without paying for it on the scale. I realize now how easily a vacation can get sabotaged, even by the most motivated of dieters. And, for those of you who have learned to make it through a holiday unscathed, you have my admiration and respect.