Everybody loves summer clothes. And summer food. They’re lighter, brighter, less complicated, and you can cram way more of them into your suitcase and belly than bulky winter items. Sitting outside someplace over a frozen cocktail or three is a national pastime in summer, too.
But beware — some treats are double and triple-loaded with sugar, fat or calories, and a little bit of savvy can stretch your budget and give you the exact same satisfaction. Why pay more?
Here’s a list of ten common calorie-packed summer treats, and how to lighten up!
LOADED: Ice cream
The reason the Italians are reputedly so chic and acculturated is because they invented tricks like this. Gelato is made with whole milk, not cream, which instead of tasting bland is the most transcendent frozen experience you can have. Heavy cream, ostensibly, obscures the essence of the main flavors in the gelato, but the whole milk has just enough butterfat to intensify flavors at low temperatures. If you’re sticking to chocolate and vanilla, you’re gastronomically dead — when in Rome you’ll order pistachio, nocciola (hazelnut), zuppa inglese, or stracciatella, and you’ll never go back. Now, here’s the biggest trick of all: the portions. Those teeny tiny cups and spoons will pack more bliss than you can imagine, so don’t order the large — trust me, it’ll be twice what you can comfortably enjoy — and a good gelateria will scoop in as many flavors as you care to try even if you order the “piccola” cup.
LIGHTER: Tacos al carbon
The trick here is simple: portion control. I don’t know about you but when somebody sets a plate of runny goodness in front of me, swimming in chili gravy and cheese, I’m not likely to leave any of it on my plate. Then I feel bloated and crappy about myself for the rest of the day. I tried the taco trick once and it was the cure — small portions of lean grilled meat on small tortillas, with toppings served on the side so you can add your own. Fajitas are a runner-up, but again, who can leave a platter of them half-eaten? Order charro beans on the side instead of the refried, and skip the rice, which is redundant. You’ll have your Tex Mex and eat it, too, and you’ll have enough pocket calories to splurge on chips and guacamole. Order the small and share it. It’s just the right amount.
LOADED: 6-ounce grilled steak
LIGHTER: 6-ounce grilled swordfish steak
It’s hard to have a huge appetite in 102-degree heat. And six ounces of meat or fish is technically twice the recommended single-serving amount. But when you’re having friends over for a dinner party those portions just look stingy. Get the freshest swordfish available, smear it with olive oil, pepper and a handful of coarse salt, and grill it for 5 minutes per side. It’s juicy, luscious, carbonized, and as dense as chicken but feathery light. There’s no hint of fishiness, so even kids will gobble it up. If you want to score extra calorie points, grill smaller portions of fish or beef, then slice them and serve them on a bed of greens with avocadoes, mango, maybe a handful of pasta, and a nice tart vinaigrette.
LOADED: Baked potato
LIGHTER: Baked potato for two
You see where I’m going with this one. A giant russet potato that weighs a full pound at the grocery store is easily enough for two people. Here’s what you do: split it in half lenthwise before you bake it. Smear it with olive oil and coarse salt. Bake them face down and uncovered for 40-45 minutes in a baking pan in a very hot oven (425-450F). The cut side will turn golden, and the skin will be so crispy and salty it’ll become your favorite part. Serve with whatever you like. You can also choose small Yukon Gold potatoes and roast them whole. It’s just right.
LOADED: Frozen coffee drinks
LIGHER: Iced coffee
It doesn’t matter how you order it: “lowfat”, “no-fat soy,” “sugar free,” bla bla bla. Just own up to the fact that those frozen coffee slurpees are addictive, and the more of them you drink, the more calories you’re packing on. A single pint-size one of these naughty concoctions has about the same amount of calories as a loaded ham sandwich. Empty calories don’t do it for me. I pick iced coffee with whole milk and drink it unsweetened, or with a teaspoon of raw sugar. It’s creamy and fantastic, and about half the calories. And it goes great with the ham sandwich.
LOADED: Grand-slam breakfast
LIGHTER: Breakfast tacos
I admit when I’m on the road, nothing is better on a Sunday morning, after an exhausting weekend of shows and late nights, than a big fat ol’ platter of eggs and sausage and hash browns and toast with a side of pancakes. But unless you’re having it in bed, and sharing it with somebody cute, I wouldn’t advise it more than once a month or so. I’ve gotten addicted to Pete’s Tacos at Maudie’s here in Austin. They’re basically a grand-slam breakfast on a tortilla, minus the pancakes, and with only about a tablespoon or two of each ingredient stuffed inside. But when you get two of them on your plate, you feel like a glutton anyway. Go ahead, chow down. Portion control triumphs once more. And at about a buck fitty per taco, you’ve still got enough cash and calories for some hair of the dog. Other killer taco spots in Austin: El Chilito, El Sol y La Luna. or any dumpy little place with a packed parking lot on Airport Blvd.
LOADED: Frozen margarita
LIGHTER: Margarita on the rocks
To make a frozen margarita taste as zingy as a regular one, bartenders have to use a much higher concentration of sugar and juice. It’s like drinking frozen limeade concentrate with 1 can of water instead of 3. Stick to a well-shaken cocktail poured over ice, and have 3 for the caloric price of one frozen! This is a useful rule to apply to any frozen drink, and yes, ALL of them can be ordered on the rocks, or shaken until ice crystals float in them and served straight up.
LOADED: Pint of lager
A shandy is the perfect summer drink if you like ice-cold beer. It’s a British concoction of lager mixed with an equal amount of 7-Up or other lemon-lime soda. If you’re a sworn diet-soda lover then you can slice calories in half on this drink. Otherwise, try a mixture of 7-Up and club soda for an even more refreshing and less cloyingly sweet version.
LOADED: Bloody Mary
Maybe you have to live within driving distance of Mexico to know about this exotic little cocktail. It’s a salty-sour flavor base of fresh lime juice, chili powder, spices and seasoned salt poured over a tall glass of ice and served with a bottled Mexican beer on the side so that you can mix your own. Beer over ice? Como no. Try it and you’ll be converted.
LOADED: Homemade lemonade
LIGHTER: Homemade lemon soda pop
I’ve been on a rabid hunt for years for the perfect bottled soft drink — not too sweet and not too blah, and with none of that Splenda stuff faking out my system. One day I ordered a Tart Lemonade off the menu at the famous Magnolia Cafe here in Austin, and it was a revelation. They’d made a seriously strong pitcher of fresh lemonade and left out the sugar! You can do this at home and mix it with club soda, sweetened fruit juice, or even cream soda for the perfect lemonade cocktail that’s only as sweet as you like it. Or heck, drink it straight, like I do. The extra dose of acidity is actually healthy for your digestion, too.
4 swordfish steaks, 6-8 ounces each
¼ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt
1 teaspoon mild powdered red chile
1 teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon garlic powder
Trim and discard any skin on the swordfish steaks. Rinse and pat them dry with paper towels. Place them in a glass baking dish. Combine the salt, pepper, chile powder and garlic and set aside. Coat the fish on both sides with the olive oil, then sprinkle the spike mixture evenly over the fish on both sides. Allow to sit at room temperature for 30-60 minutes. Grill the steaks for 5-7 minutes per side, or until the fish is just opaque in the middle. Serve with the salsa spooned over the top of the fish.
2 small or 1 large ripe avocado
1 mango, peach or other soft pitted fruit (or substitute pineapple)
1 tablespoon chopped green onion
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon powdered red chile
Pepper and salt to taste
Gently grate the zest of one of the limes and place it in a small mixing bowl. Slice and squeeze both the limes and stir in the honey, green onion, salt and pepper. Dice the avocado and fruit and add them to the lime juice mixture, tossing very gently to coat well. Transfer the salsa to a serving dish, sprinkle the chile powder over the salsa and allow to steep at room temperature for 30-60 minutes.