Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Book Review: The Sonoma Diet by Dr. Connie Guttersen, R.D., Ph.D.

The Sonoma Diet: Trimmer Waist, Better Health in Just 10 Days [Hardcover] by Connie Guttersen (Author), Stephanie Karpinske (Editor)
Publisher: Meredith Books (December 27, 2005)
ISBN-10: 0641975678
Rating (1 to 5*): ****

I have dealt with a significant tendency toward overweight for all of my life. This comes from my personal burden of loving food mated with my fundamental laziness. Now, as it happens, my darling wife also loves food, but she is a dynamo, and she tends to work excess calories off readily. In addition to that, through the years, she has tried a variety of diets and life-plans that are conducive to losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight. But I hate diets. I do not like the frozen diet foods and the fodder that diet books try to convince you to eat – I am a foodie! I really want good quality food.

Worse than the diets are the "healthy living plans" that forbid all things delicious. They instruct that you should become accustomed to eating construction paper and that all things tempting and delicious are for short-lived fatties. They do wisely recommend vigorous activity on a regular basis, but the eating aspect is hellish.

So, one day, at one of these travelling book fairs, on the bottom shelf of the cookbook rack I spotted a book called The Sonoma Diet. Since I am a fan of all things associated with the lyrically beautiful Sonoma County, and since I also love to ridicule diet books, I picked it up to give it a quick once-over. In perusing its pages I found that much of it is based on the very reputable South Beach Diet, which is, in turn, heavily influenced by the Mediterranean Diet Plan. OK, so far, so good. The South Beach Diet, whilst much of the food is convenience oriented, is a well balanced approach to eating for life – it does not deny much of anything. Like the Mediterranean Diet Plan, it is more about finding balance in what you eat, and less about cutting things out, with the notable exception of garbage. There is no room in any of these plans for much of anything made by Hostess, but that is alright by me.

Then I got to the recipe section of the book. The diet and the recipes are laid out in three phases – Wave 1 is the acclimation portion of the diet, Wave 2 is for continued weight loss, and Wave 3 is the way to balance food for your life. If you fall off the wagon for a bit – go on a cruise or opt for the butter poached lobster at The French Laundry (and who wouldn't?) – it is easy to back off to an earlier wave to drop a few, or a number of, pounds, and you are back on track.

And the recipes are fantastic. Everything in Dr. Guttersen's book is about fresh ingredients. We really leverage our local farmers' markets heavily to acquire the fresh and ripe vegetables, fruits and herbs that we eat in this diet. Since we live in the northern end of the beautiful Sacramento Valley in California, we are blessed with fresh local fruits and vegetables no less than ten months per year.

The fantastic food is, however, both the best thing about this diet and the stumbling block that some dieters may find with it. Since real cooking is involved, much of the food requires preparation of fresh ingredients and, as such, it may be more time consuming than many wish to, or can, devote to preparation. The way menus for Phases 1 and 2 are written, however, is such that much of the prep for two or three days may be done at once. Additionally, there are times when leftovers from the previous day's dinner are used in the next day's lunch. For example, on one day we had marinated flank steak for dinner, and the following day we had steak & blue cheese wraps using the leftover steak.

I do not always like Dr. Guttersen's recommendations. Omelets, for example, are a staple of The Sonoma Diet in all three waves, which is great – I love omelets. She, however, wants them to be cooked in extra virgin olive oil, and in my view, that undermines much of the joy of a good omelet. I would use extra virgin olive oil as a first choice substitute for whole butter, but, because of the temperatures at which omelets are cooked and because of how wonderfully butter and eggs mate, I really like to cook my omelets in butter. I understand the virtues of olive oil, and the generally exaggerated evils of good quality butter, but that does not matter. I want butter with my eggs.

The good doctor, however, is looking after my health, so I adhere to her rules. And, despite that fact, on this diet I have no significant cravings. Yes, periodically I jones for a Porterhouse cooked rare over charcoal and seasoned with freshly cracked black Tellicherry peppercorns, a generous pinch of fleur de sel and lemon wedges, a side of Johnny Schmitt's Potatoes au Gratin and maybe a scoopful of the roasted carrots and onions the way that they do them at Izzy's; but I crave that stuff when I am normally eating badly.

If I give into those temptations now and then, that is alright – as a wise man once said, "It's not what you eat on Sundays that makes you fat. It's what you eat every day that makes you fat." This diet is an amazingly good way to eat every day. It is appealing to people who love good fresh food and who love to cook, but who need to watch their food intake.

Here is an example of one of our Wave 1 friendly recipes from The Sonoma Diet, p. 180: 
 Beef and Mushroom Kabobs 
Prep: 25 minutes Marinate: 30 minutes to 1 hour Grill: 8 minutes Makes: 6 servings 
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 medium shallot, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano or 2 teaspoons dried oregano, crushed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (1 teaspoon minced)
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds beef tenderloin or boneless sirloin, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 ounces fresh mushrooms
  • 12 cherry tomatoes
  1. For marinade, in a medium bowl combine vinegar, oil, the water, shallot, oregano, thyme, garlic, the ¾ teaspoon kosher salt and the ½ teaspoon pepper. 
  2. Season meat with additional kosher salt and pepper. Place meat in a self-sealing plastic bag set in a shallow dish. Pour half of the marinade over the meat. (Reserve remaining marinade for vegetables.) Seal bag; turn to coat meat. Marinate meat in refrigerator for 30 minutes to 1 hour, turning bag occasionally. 
  3. Place mushrooms and cherry tomatoes in another self-sealing plastic bag and set in a shallow dish. Pour remaining marinade over vegetables. Seal bag; turn to coat vegetables. Marinate at room temperature for 20 minutes. 
  4. Drain meat and vegetables, discarding marinade. On twelve 10-inch skewers*, alternately thread beef, mushrooms and tomatoes, leaving a ¼-inch space between pieces.
  5. For a charcoal grill, place kebobs on the rack of an uncovered grill directly over medium coals. Grill until desired doneness, turning kabobs once halfway through grilling. Allow 8 to 12 minutes for medium-rare doneness (145°F) or 12 to 15 minutes for medium doneness (160°F). (For a gas grill, preheat grill. Reduce heat to medium. Place kabobs on grill rack over heat. Cover and grill as above.) 
 Nutrition Facts per serving: 220 cal., 11 g total fat (4 g sat. fat), 70 mg chol., 177 mg sodium, 4 g carbo., 1 g fiber, 25 g pro.*Note: If using wooden skewers, soak them in water at least 1 hour before using.
Broiler method: Place kabobs on the unheated rack of a broiler pan. Broil 4 to 5 inches from the heat until desired doneness. Allow 8 to 12 minutes for medium-rare doneness (145°F) or 12 to 15 minutes for medium doneness (160°F), turning once halfway through broiling. 

When we do this recipe, I opt for the tenderloin. This goes against my natural inclination when it comes to kabobs, as they are traditionally a peasant food, but this is so delicious with tenderloin that I just cannot resist. Because I am using good quality tenderloin, I prefer to undercook it a bit. Also, we have access to some high quality baby portabella mushrooms, so we use those instead of white mushrooms, and they are fantastic on the grill.

In short, this is the best diet I have ever encountered for those who like to eat. It works, and there is no feeling of deprivation.

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