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Sunday, December 25, 2011

#37: Merry Christmas Part 7: Festive Fat-Busters

The year-end festivities are the perfect excuse to have your cake and eat it too. But that doesn't have to mean packing on the pounds.

Everyone love to party, and the Christmas / New Year / Lunar New Year period is just another great excuse to go wild. It can also be a total body blow-out. Identified here are your three worst enemies in the festive season: cocktails, dinner parties and the office drinks. Here's how to minimise the damage.

Cocktail cop-out

It's cocktails galore starting the week before Christmas and ending only on January 1. Having a sneaky strategy and clever wit is often needed to overcome the battlefield of calories at a cocktail gathering. Laugh off the comments graciously, and stand your ground. Nobody is talking total abstinence. But don't feel compelled to pick and nibble just because everyone else is doing so and want to look busy. If the hors d'oeuvres do take your fancy, a small sampling is within reason.

Display your goods: Always put your nibbles on a plate (wherever possible), instead of standing around and popping them straight from the passing waiter's tray. That way you'll keep track of what you're actually eating. Remember: the calories add up even if you forget you've had them.

Pre-party preparation: Attending a cocktail with a growling tummy signals diet danger. Chances are, you'll be so hungry that you won't be able to resist filling up on whatever food's available at the party. Imagine how many of those tiny hors d'oeuvres it would take to satisfy your appetite – and how many calories that adds up to! Finger foods are for light, conversation snacks, not meals. Have a pre-party snack about an hour before heading to the party. Something low in fat, but with carbohydrates and protein so that it's satisfying, such as a wholegrain sandwich with tuna or chicken breast filling, without mayonnaise.

Satisfaction guaranteed: Munching on carrot and celery sticks all night might cause you to lose that holiday mood and make you frustrated. Choose about three or four hors d'oeuvres that you like most in the selection and indulge. Then go back to the veggy snackers and low-cal stuff once your tastebuds have been satisfied.

Cut the calories, without sacrificing the taste: Trim the fat and calories in ways you won't even feel. Fresh, cold seafood makes for healthy finger food, while the same stuff, breaded and fried then served with tartare sauce, is laden with fat. Instead of potato crisps, try water biscuits. And dip them in hummus, tzaziki (a yoghurt-based Greek dip) and salsa instead of guacamole, goose liver pate or melted cheddar cheese. A serving of salsa counts as only 12 calories, while guacamole contains about 108 and goose liver pate has almost 150 calories. Yo do the math!

Tip #1: Put your hands in the air and step away from the chip bowl. Don't make polite conversation next to the bowl of cocktail nuts or buttery popcorn. You'll find yourself reaching constantly for handfuls of the fattening little things, especially during awkward pauses in the conversation. And keep your distance from the buffet spread after you've had your share of the snacks. It's temptation-city otherwise.

The sit-down shenanigan

It's Christmas Eve. Mom's just roasted the most succulent turkey, stuffed it with the yummiest sausage stuffing and there are loads of fried onions and potato salad on the side. But that's not all. You've forgotten the pies, ice-cream, tiramisu, cheesecake (every woman's favorite) and cream cakes. And come New Year, there's your colleague's bash with mounds of fried food and other party favorites that spell trouble for your (now-expanding) waistline. What's a girl to do?

Fill up on veggies and carbohydrates: The biggest party diet faux pas is to totally pig-out on yummy but dangerously-fattening party food. Just one fried chicken wing costs 121 calories. Start with the salads, so you'll be rather less famished by the time you get to the main courses. And when you do, have more rice, vegetables or potatoes (as long as they're not the fried, mashed and chip variety) as fillers, so you'll have less space left for the roasts and curries.

Take your time: Hey, what's the hurry? You're at a party to have fun, not simply to load up on free food. Eat slowly, chew your food well and savour every bite. It's far better for your digestion. Nutritionists suggest putting down your cutlery after every bite, as this tends to slow down your chewing rate. Furthermore, you tend not to eat as much when you take a longer time during a meal. Think about it: you'll still be halfway through your first round while your friends are going for seconds. They when they're at the dessert stage, you'll feel strange going for another round of mains. That way, you cut down on your food intake.

Pick your pieces: Looking forward to Mom's mouth-watering Christmas turkey or Aunt Helen's world-famous honey-roast chicken? Go for the breast. White meat has only half the fat of dark, and is more substantial as a meal. The wing has the least meat, but contains pockets of fat, and lots of fat-laden skin.

Booby traps: Remove all skin from your poultry and all visible fat from your roast beef or tandoori lamb. A major proportion of the calories lurk in these danger zones. Skim off (discreetly, using your spoon or knife) melted butter in your cream sauce, the top layer of oil in your gravies and that thick crust of icing sugar from your cakes. Last but not least, if you absolutely must have your favorite baked potato with all the trimmings, go easy on the sour cream (just a small dab will suffice) and load up on the chives. Sprinkle some salt for taste.

Tit for tat: Go without the wine accompaniment, or soft drinks during dinner and your calories will be better spent on dessert. Better still, have the best of both worlds – egg nog for dessert. That way, you'll have a sweet treat, with an alcohol buzz.

Tip #2: Steer clear of the oil-slicks. It's plain common sense. If you love greasy chicken wings and the like, then by all means have just a little of each. And garnish, don't drown your rice or noodles with oily curries and gravies.

Tip #3: Leave space for dessert. If you've sussed out the dessert spread, and seen stuff that you like, pick just one slice of cake or pie. Or have a small bite of, say, five different desserts. That way you get to have your tiramisu, Christmas pudding, crème brulee and pumpkin pie and eait it too. Otherwise, just stick with the fresh fruits. If you've already pigged out during the main courses and appetisers, skip dessert.

Drinks disaster

There's nothing like the booze to make merry during the holidays. Be afraid, very afraid! A creamy cocktail like pina colada packs a whopping 300 calories (half a cup of premium vanilla ice-cream has just 270 calories). Spend your calories wisely. And that means, slow down on the vino. Also, if you've had a heavy dinner, chances are you'll need more drinks to be merry.

Sip, don't gulp: Resist the urge to guzzle your drink like you would mineral water on a hot day. Remember these are invisible calories that you're consuming, and a few drinks might be the equivalent of a full meal. Anyway, cocktails should be way too elegant to be sculled.

Mix and match: Often, it's not what you mix, and what you mix in it that accounts for the high calorific content of your drink. Creamy mixers like coconut cream (in Pina Colada and Pink Lady), cream or milk (in Kahlua Milk, Bailey's Irish Cream and Flaming Lamborghini) do their share of fat contribution to the blends. Sweet sodas and colas have 150 calories per 12 fluid ounces, while the diet varieties, club soda and tonic water contain practically none.

Beware of the “innocent” culprits: Don't be fooled into thinking that that glass of orange juice you're nursing in your hand is a safe option. Twelve fluid ounces of the seemingly innocent OJ has 166 calories floating about in there. And non-alcoholic beer does only a fraction less caloric harm than the real McCoy. Evian, anyone?

Tip #4: Choose your potion carefully. Not every drink has to contain alcohol. Have a champagne, then ease up with a glass of mineral water. Or choose a drink that's not saturated with sugars. A glass of beer (146 calories for 12 fluid ounces) beats three small glasses of dessert wine (552 calories for the same amount) hands down.

Last but not least, have a Merry Christmas!

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Sunday, December 18, 2011

#36: Pre-Christmas Part 6: Christmas Cheer

Get the festive fever going...

1. Organise a tree decorating party, complete with eggnog and mistletoe.

2. Have a “carols by candlenight” evening in your home with all your closest friends, and a collection of sheet music of your favorite festive songs.

3. Head for the beach for a Christmas picnic of ham, turkey and salads.

4. Challenge your friends to a competition to see who can come up with the worst Christmas poem to be read at a get-together on Christmas night!

5. Pre-select enjoyable Christmas videos so that you won't be stuck with watching the dreadful endless re-runs of Santa with Muscles and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and such films.

6. Make a photographic collage from photos of friends and family over many Christmases past. It would be the talking point of the night.

Be a Santarina

1. Get some empty matchboxes and wrap them up, making sure the tray can still slide out. Then mount them all on a large piece of mahjong paper, and hang it on the wall. Put a Christmas saying or mini pressie inside each box and get your guests to choose a box each and pull out their surprise!

2. Get generous and give your guests a little something before they leave the party. You can get affordable gifts such as fancy soap, bubble bath or even get down to making or own.

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Sunday, December 11, 2011

#35: Pre-Christmas Part 5: Food for thought

Imagine going to a food-free party? No can do! While you don't have to serve up a feast, here are some tips to entertain in style.

Food Themes

Another way to plan a theme party is to make food the focal point. Food themes are easier to plan and relatively hassle-free.

1. Pick a country: Go Italian (pasta party), Japanese (sushi party) or German (sausage party). You can't go wrong with a theme that's straightforward. To enhance the ambience, play the music of that country during the party.

2. Pick a food: Just choose one of these: pizza, pasta, salad. Imagine how simple it would be just preparing one dish! Tell your guests beforehand so they'd know what to expect for this new take on the 70s salad party.

3. Pick a way of cooking: Barbecue is still a hot fave, but why not a steamboat or fondue party? Parties that get everyone involved in the cooking provide more chances for interaction between your guests.

On a budget?

A large part of your budget is usually allocated to food. Here are a few suggestions to get round that shoe-string budget.

1. Have a pot-luck party: Tell everyone guest to bring their culinary specialty. Not only will you be getting them more involved in the party, you'll be spreading out the cost too. As the host, you should at least provide the drinks, though.

2. Divide the cost: If you're inviting a group of close friends, suggest everyone puts in a certain amount of money, say $10 a head. Then whip up or buy the best feast this pool of money can buy!

3. Serve up finger food: Providing a full meal can be costly. Why not invite guests over just for nibbles? A dip served with daintily cut vegetables looks classy and won't cost you the world. Alternatively, pop into the corner cafe, grab a few servings of cheesecakes and display it professionally.

Indulge yourself

If you've got extra cash to spare, spread the good spirit around!

1. Champaign breakfast: Give the local breakfast restaurant a run for their money. Set up your own breakfast table with croissants, fruit, toast, scrambled eggs, sausages and of course, champagne! Serve orange juice too so your guests can mix their own Mimosas! Here's a suggestion: get your friends to stay over and have them help you prepare breakfast in the morning!

2. Cocktail Night: Ask your friends to bring different spirits to mix and make sure you stock up on fruit, cream and ice. Try borrowing a few blenders from friends so that your guests don't mob you when they have to wait in line for a Screwdriver.

Entertaining impromptu guests

Oh no! Old friends from abroad have come home for the season. What happens if they drop in and you don't even have a packet of biscuits in the house? To avoid being caught in this situation, always keep your kitchen cabinets stocket with:

1. Fresh fruit – whip up a quick fruit platter and serve it with yoghurt and low-fat ice-cream.

2. Healthy Nibbles – raw nuts, dried apricots and guave, sunflower seeds, raisins and low-fat microwavable popcorn are easy-to-grab snacks.

3. Salsa Dip – it has a long shelf life and is ultra tasty when eaten with carrot and celery sticks.

4. Rice or Water crackers – they can be served with whatever else you have in stock in the fridge, such as cheese or hummus.

5. Canned salmon – can be quickly mixed with cottage and ricotta cheese to form a healthy dip or stuffed into bread to make great sandwiches.

6. Fruit toast – keep a few loaves frozen as this can be as scrumptious as a fruit teacake when toasted and topped with melting butter.

7. A few bottles of wine – it will probably be more welcome than food!

How much is enough?

1. For a cocktail party, prepare two to three servings of each kind of hors d'oeuvre per person.

2. Provide at least three drinks per guest.

3. Buy about 4kg of ice for every 10 guests. It's always better to have more ice because people just love chilled drinks.

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Sunday, December 4, 2011

#34: Pre-Christmas Part 4: Chat-up tips for parties

Parties are the perfect place to meet new men, and here's how to do it right.

When you're feeling and looking fab, going to parties is a cinch. Not so when you're frumpy, frazzled or the competition is hot. But it's worth making the effort becase parties force people to spend at least a few hours in one place out of sheer politeness. So if you've got time to sit back and study your target, watch who they're talking to and for how long. They're being chatted up by a girl with long legs as a giraffe? They could be brain-dead boring for all you know. (You, on the other hand, have personality and lashings of style.) So find whoever organised the party and do a bit of sleuthing. Single or attached? Nice person or pig? Find something you have in common, then get the host to introduce you, “X, you must meet Y. She's a Star Wars fan too.”

If the host/ess is unavailable, find an excuse to do something near your target, change the CD, grab some nibbles or enlist a friend's help, go and chat nearby. Next, catch his eye and smile. If he seems friendly, introduce yourself. Once there, flirt like mad, and don't even think about going to the loo. (If you must, offer to get him a drink so you can come back and claim his attention.)

How to really have fun at a party

1. Dress for success – Wear something you feel comfortable in. There is no point looking like a total sex bomb if you daren't move an inch. You will look either like a wax figurine or part of the furniture.

2. Grab a chirpy friend – It's a drag arriving at the party not knowing anyone and standing in a corner by yourself. So bring along a friend and make sure she or he doesn't act like they've been forced to be there!

3. Ditch the diet – A party is the time to eat and be merry. That doesn't have to mean totally pigging out.

4. Don't be a party pooper – Get involved and play along. If there are games, join in instead of pulling a grumpy face and protesting. If there's a theme, be a sport and dress up for it. It's all for laughs anyway.

Top tactics

Smile. Happy people attract other people to them.

Start a conversation. How do they know the host or hostess? What do they do for a living?

Give them a compliment.

Drop lots of clues on how to find you again in case you get separated. Where you work, the suburb/town/neighborhood you live in, the fact that you know so-and-so.


Don't give up if you smile and they don't smile back. They might not have seen you (were too vain to wear their glasses) or simply drifted off in la-la land.

Don't get drunk to boost your courage before meeting them. Don't muscle in when they're obviously chatting up someone else or attached.

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