Category Archives: food

Pin on the Map of Summer 2014

I’ve not updated my blog in a while, so I’m going to do a little check up to see what’s new with me!

1. I’m still eating mostly Paleo. I had some lapses over vacation that undid some of my progress – not a lot, but enough to piss me off to where I doubled down my efforts and have gotten back to near my plateau weight again.

1a. Foods that I’m trying to cut out of my life a little more: starchy sweet potatoes and bananas. I love sweet potatoes, but I’m going to be transitioning back to carrots and sweet peas for lunch, and though I was glad to discover my body could once again handle bananas several years out from my gallbladder surgery, I discovered that my weight started to creep up again when I had so much starch in my life.

2. Running is still off the table for a while as I wait for my body to heal. I did a walk/run two weeks ago, and while it wasn’t as painful as an attempt in March, I decided that I was really pushing my luck. I don’t want to really hurt myself just because I think I’m invincible.

3. I started playing with a hula hoop about a month ago. I am not consistent in using it, but it is a hell of a lot of fun.

4. I also picked back up my copy of the book New Rules of Lifting for Women, which is a good progressive set of strength workouts. I have some of my old printed workout charts in the book still, and they tell me the last time I worked out with the program was April 2011. So it’s been a long time. I don’t have access to a gym anymore, but I do have dumbbells, and the first set of exercises does include dumbbell workouts for alternative exercises. I’ve been doing those. I forgot how much DOMS hurts. I forgot how much squats can suck if you haven’t done them for a long time. But it’s muscle ache, not body pain, so I’m glad to not have hurt myself trying to do too much, too soon. I’m in my 30s, and my body isn’t going to bounce back the way it used to do.

Boring Adventures in Homemade Soup

I have a rocky cooking history. I never really learned how to cook, or paid much attention when someone was teaching me. I have used recipes in the past with some success, but it’s not something I’ve tried on a regular basis until this new year.

A friend bought me a soup cookbook for Christmas, and I’ve been trying out the recipes with great success. I make modifications, but within reason. I have enough failed recipes from multiple substitutions to know there are limits to my culinary hunches.

Mushroom barley: remove the barley, double the mushrooms. Mediterranean roasted vegetable: baking vegetables is boring, but sauteing is amazing. Split pea and ham: pretty much as-is. Chicken potato with bacon: use sweet potatoes instead, eliminate the flour. And my favorite variation: take them all into consideration, use one as a base, and throw every other vegetable in the crisper drawer into the soup. And add about half the traditional spices in my spice cabinet. That’s my kitchen sink soup.

Each recipe has turned out to be a winner so far, with my favorite being the double mushroom. I have at least 20 others to try, but most of them include pasta and grains and starchy thickeners that are either integral to the recipe or a pain to substitute for, and my paleo-ish diet dictates fewer of those ingredients. So far, I’m happy with zucchini and squash, mirepoix, sweet potatoes, chicken broth, and garlic in pretty much everything.

My only challenge now is limiting soup portion sizes. Even if I’ve already had dinner, I can’t resist the temptation to sample an entire bowl of hot soup fresh off the stove.

Delicious soups!

The Hole Inside

I got sick over the winter holidays. It happens to most of us, right? Typhoid Mary gave Dirty Santa a whole new meaning this year, and friends and family alike were struck down by the same bug right around Christmas. And masked by the illness at first, my hernia showed up again to put a damper on my exercise.

The day before this mess started, I was lying on the couch watching TV, and my 30-pound dog jumped directly onto my stomach with his full weight. I felt a sharp pain, to the point where after a few minutes, I took pain reliever to, well, relieve the pain. I went to my part-time job in retail the next morning. I started out the work day just fine, but after an hour of being on my feet, I completely lost my appetite, felt feverish and nauseated, and still had to put on a smiling face to process customer returns on the weekend after Christmas for another 6 hours.

I had a case of the holiday season retail employee illness going-to-throw-up-on-your-receipts blues.

I had a case of the holiday-season, unwell-retail-employee, going-to-throw-up-on-your-receipts blues.

I was down with a bug for the next week, but even after I got over the fever and the tossing of the cookies and the aching of the body like the rest of my family was suffering, I was still feeling mild nausea at least once a day — mostly in the morning if I hadn’t eaten breakfast. And that’s a sign of… hernia! Aw yeah! Wait, that’s bad! No! Ugh!

Given my history of abdominal surgery and spending most of the summer of 2012 miserable and curled around a bottle of ginger ale, any abdominal weirdness puts my mild hypochondria into overdrive. Living in the U.S. without healthcare insurance, this turns into fruitless worry and hoping very hard that nothing is wrong.

Happily for me, I haven’t had any pain since the first night, and the nausea is getting a lot better. I’ve been taking antacids as needed, eating foods that will reduce the hydrochloric acid in my stomach, and not exerting myself too much.

Sadly, the weather shaped up beautifully over this weekend, and as much as I’d LOVE to be out for a run, wishing I’d bought a pair of fingerless gloves last night, I’m taking a rest to let my body heal. I don’t want to power through it and do more damage.

There's a hole in my innards. (Not to physical scale...kind of to mental scale.)

There’s a hole in my innards. (Not to physical scale…kind of to mental scale.)

My day job is about to get super busy, so I’m disappearing down the rabbit hole of work. But I am hoping that once the hole in my innards is healed, I can get back out on the road and keep on pursuing the sport I’ve fallen in love with to keep myself sane and remind myself that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and it is a filing deadline that must be met.

And depending on how long it takes me to heal and how much of my life has been eaten by my job by early March, maybe I won’t need to outfit myself with fingerless gloves after all. That would leave a 3-month gap in my workout history, unfortunately, so maybe I should go ahead and get some outdoor sporting-appropriate gloves in case I feel mended enough in a couple of weeks to put my running shoes on during one of these 38º F days.

I’d like to give a shout out to chicken broth. You complete me. When I am feeling sick and trying to avoid pasta as per my doctor’s standing orders two years ago, you are chicken soup in the purest, most digestible form. I love you.

Dirt Brownies: Healthy Cooking Disasters

Have you ever looked at a post on a recipe or foodie blog (or even a Pinterest recipe posted by your aunt on Facebook) and thought, “That looks both simple and delicious! I should totally try that! That won’t turn out a hot mess AT ALL!” I have a history of doing that. And much like the woman behind the Pintester blog, I have a history of working with whatever items I have around the house or what I can source in a small town in southern Kentucky, trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, as it were, when I shouldn’t even be in the market for a faux silk purse in the first place. It always backfires.

I grew up in a household of working women who weren’t your traditional American homemakers. My maternal grandmother and my mom, accomplished as they are and love them as I do, weren’t big on home cooking as art form. I grew up on a lot of Campbell’s soup and Chef Boyardee and Meat Variety Helper products. My stepmom and paternal grandmother were each better cooks, but I didn’t learn a lot from either of them until I was older. Until last year, I was still making Amish Friendship Bread from a starter my stepmom gave me in 2009, and I loved it. Baking is easy. You put in ingredients from a pre-set formula, knowing how it’s supposed to turn out and not straying from the formula too much, and blam, science turns it into a pie or something marvelous. Baking is fun and always appreciated. Everyone loves pie. I love baking.

Cooking? Cooking is a chore. It’s thankless. In the U.S., we begrudgingly pay people minimum wage to cook for us. We hardly ever thank the people who feed us every day unless provoked by a special occasion. I don’t even care if my cooking turns out badly; I will usually eat whatever horrible thing I cook rather than go to the trouble of cooking again. I would rather eat Bachelor Chow than cook. Filboid Studge‘s marketing would have worked on me.

But boy howdy, I didn’t know that my passion for baking and my anti-knack for cooking would intersect so thoroughly when I tried to have a make-it-work moment with my pantry and a good recipe for an unhealthy food. The other day, I was taking a look at Paleo recipes and found a recipe for muffins over at PaleOMG. “Protein. Nut-free. Paleo. Chocolate. Baking.” These words made my heart beat faster. “Yes, I will be trying THAT,” I told my computer. My computer, having heard this before, tried to shut down. I admire its attempt to save me from myself. But despite the best efforts of the author to provide clear instructions and advice about substitutions in the comments, I still managed to eff up everything and made what I can only term as Dirt Brownies.

I didn’t learn my lesson from last year’s protein pumpkin pie disaster. I was feeding my dogs lots of pumpkin to help their tummies adjust to the stress of moving and new bacteria their bodies were not used to dealing with. I had a lot of canned plain pumpkin on my hands, and one day, I found a recipe that incorporated egg whites, canned pumpkin, some spices, protein powder, and magic to make perfect little pumpkin pie breakfast cakes.

That little voice in your head that tells you, “You should listen to the instructions. You need to pick up some genuine yak butter to make this recipe. You cannot substitute llama butter again”? Listen to that voice. That is the voice that I did not heed. That’s why I used chocolate powder in my slightly chocolate-pumpkin cake. That’s why I used a whole egg, yolk and all, to make an eggy, slightly chocolate-pumpkin cake. That’s why I used an old bottle of apple pie spices and too much Splenda to make a Splenda-coated, inconsistently spiced like apple pie, eggy, slightly chocolate-pumpkin pie that tasted like failure and had a texture like a cheap kitchen sponge.

I didn’t learn my lesson from 8 years of sometimes-strange vegetarian dinners. Ok, often-strange vegetarian dinners. I wasn’t one of those vegetarians who made a lot of stir fry vegetables in a wok and ate raw vegetables on the regular; I was more a fan of Boca and Morningstar and Quorn products wrapped in carbohydrates. A lot of dinners were wet marinara and whole wheat pasta and soggy microwaved vegetable mix. There were also a few from-scratch disasters that involved: over- or under-cooked quinoa; eggplant that I didn’t quite know what to do with; butternut squash ravioli that would not actually stay in the ravioli (delicious but way labor intensive); an apple and pear pie that didn’t cook all the way through; blocks of tofu incorrectly cooked, poorly spiced, or some combination thereof.

I didn’t even learn from my high school years, when I was sometimes a latchkey kid cooking my own dinner. I once made an entire boxed dinner in a pot that had been pre-soaked in dish soap, but not rinsed out, by my mother. The less said about those meals, the better.

A lot of my bad food experiments have started with nothing but the best intentions. But I think they have another thing in common: trying to replicate something worse for me by using an imperfect mix of ingredients that are nominally good for me.

So let’s take a walk down memory lane, back to two or three days ago, when I made my Dirt Brownies.

The recipe calls for sunflower butter. I don’t have any on hand. Neither did the two local groceries – surprise! I did find off-brand Nutella, which I almost bought for science, except the sugar content is really high. I thought, “Hell, I’ll make my own sunflower butter!” Without bothering to consult a recipe, I bought a container of roasted sunflower seeds. I also picked up a few other ingredients, like coconut flakes (um… well, none of this is unsweetened. Oh well, that’s not a lot)… baker’s chocolate (it says dark chocolate, but this baker’s chocolate has hardly any sugar at all, and I’m not looking for sugar, right?)… protein powder or coconut flour or whatever (nope, didn’t use any of these, just more coconut flakes).

When I got home, I busted out my little food processor. I tried like mad to make it work, gave up, and handed it to my boyfriend, who promptly fixed it within 5 seconds of laying hands on it. He is a jerk.

Sunflower Butter: The Journey

Sunflower Butter: The Journey

A recipe I found for sunflower butter said, “Don’t use the dry roasted sunflower seeds with salt! Use unroasted and unsalted only, as they’ll have more oils inside to make your sunflower butter creamy!” I slowly edged the empty canister of dry roasted, salted sunflower seeds into the trash as I turned on the food processor. Bzzt! What a lovely powder this makes! The recipe said I could add some oil. I’ve got canola oil and olive oil. The olive oil bottle had been used to clean my boyfriend’s work boots, the tip repeatedly touched to the polishing rag. Olive oil it was. I tossed in a good glorping of the oil (measurements are for the prepared!) and gave it a whirl for a few more minutes, poking the sludge with a little plastic blade. It seemed to work out ok, so I went with it.

I included the eggs in the recipe, the sunflower butter and a pinch of the coconut flakes. I didn’t add salt, since that seemed to be covered by the salty, salty sunflower seeds. I didn’t add protein powder or coconut flour, because I didn’t have either. I microwaved the baker’s chocolate to soften it enough for me to cut into tiny pieces. “The better to distribute through the muffins! Wait, I don’t have a muffin pan. …The better to distribute through the BROWNIES! I’m such a genius!”

I drizzled on some honey, fearing how granola-y the batter looked once in a little 9×9 pan, how little sugar I had used, and what it might taste like. It came out of the oven about 15 minutes later still bubbling around the edges. I left it on the stove for a few minutes to cool, then cut out my first piece and took a bite.

It was a bite I will remember for the rest of my life. It is filed under the mental note: “Tastes like hot dirt.”

Unknown to me at the time this photo was taken, the trivet probably tastes better than anything else in the photo.

Unknown to me at the time this photo was taken, the trivet probably tastes better than anything else in the photo.

I told my boyfriend what happened. “You’re welcome to try one if you want,” I told him, warning him of the healthy ingredients. He took a bite, un-took the bite, and threw the rest into the trash. Then he set his tongue on fire. From space.

He heard me putting them into plastic ware later. “You’re SAVING THOSE??”

“I made them, I should eat them. They are brownies of atonement.”

I had the last two small brownies after dinner tonight. I wanted to eat more, even after two burger patties with cheese, a sweet potato, and a tomato-okra stew, so I finished off the container. If I am going to idly eat, I’m going to idly eat something that has some protein and makes me think twice before the next time I make a healthy version of an unhealthy food.

The best food I’ve ever eaten has been fresh produce. There is nothing so wonderful as big, ripe raspberries or blueberries or blackberries or strawberries. I love different apple varieties. Carrots and I get along famously. Baked sweet potatoes go great with anything. And did I mention apples? I love apples.

A woman named Eve loves apples. FILM AT 11.

A woman named Eve loves apples. FILM AT 11.

I need to remember that the less processed my food is, the more I’m probably going to enjoy it. The further I stray from a tested recipe, the better the chances are that I will hate my results. I have many talents; culinary intuition is not one of them.

At least my spirit of adventure has not left me, despite the array of poor sensory experiences I have visited upon myself. I’ll try almost anything once. Cricket flour as ingredient in energy bars has me slightly repulsed and slightly intrigued. I may be trusted to buy a bar if they ever make their way to my regional health food stores, but please, send people to my house to prevent me from baking using cricket flour. What I create from it would likely result in a plague of locusts.

Roller Coaster of Food

Whee! I’m eating healthy!

Just kidding, chocolate oatmeal cookies and sugary cappuccinos forever!

No, wait, carrots for dinner. Nothing but raw carrots. 40 BABY CARROTS.

Woman from the fake Nutrigrain ad "I Feel Great."

CARROTS EVERYWHERE. (If you recognize this image, you’ve been on the internet too long.)

OK, if I could just figure out what my body wants and stick to it, that would be great. Thanks.

I’ve maintained my weight through the month of December through the power of never wanting to eat, not stocking food in my house, going on long walks with the dogs, and eating more at holiday meals than I mean to do. But it is now January, and people have stopped cooking for me out of some sense of familial obligation and holiday spirit. Well, fine, I didn’t want to eat their delicious bacon-wrapped Parmesan and avocado cracker sandwiches. I’ll just go look at my condensed beefy mushroom soup and not think about Danish wedding cookies and soft bread covered in cheesy spinach dip.

Listening to my body is something I have historically had a hard time doing. I’ve tried to develop that skill for my own good and my own health, as lately, I have found myself ignoring hunger pangs and letting my anxiety tell me that everything is terrible and nothing will ever go right again because of some uncontrollable factor.

So if I see a plate of freshly-made dessert things in the kitchen, and if I haven’t had much else to eat that day, sometimes, I just say, “All right. Let’s do this.” At the grocery, I try not to police myself so hard on the food items I buy for myself. “No, soup is fine. Get more vegetables to put into it. And get a different type of apples this time. Eggs! Get some damn eggs!” And then, I prepare these foods when I’m hungry.

I had a dinner of foods that were not on my usual eating-stuff list on New Year’s Day. The ham was pretty much fine, though I ate a lot of it; I also had baked corn, hoppin’ john, homemade mashed potatoes, and peanut butter cookies. How many peanut butter cookies? Hmm. Maybe, like, 5 or 6. Worth it. I hadn’t eaten a lot in the days leading up to that day, and I had two plates of that food. It was pretty awesome. I felt so much better.

I worry sometimes that I’m restricting my foods too much with my lower carb, paleo-ish diet. I worry, too, that my lack of consistent weight loss, my plateauing, and my public straying from my declared eating lifestyle will come back on me as judgment from others and from myself when my body turns all these marvelous things into fat and re-glues some weight to the parts of me that have gotten smaller since last year.

A cartoon of an alien accusing a remorseful human woman.

JUDGED FOR FOOD CHOICES. No amnesty.

There’s letting your diet go completely by the wayside as you eat nothing but sugary snacks and non-nutritious foods. And then, there’s rebuilding, learning new limits, and eventually, eating foods in moderation. I like to think I’m engaging in the latter and not the former.

Some days, it really does feel like I’m riding a roller coaster of food choices. I have to remember that life has peaks and valleys, and self-care is no exception. Nothing is smooth sailing forever. If you learn to recover from the valleys and take them in stride rather than freak out or give in to the temptations completely, you’re more likely to enjoy yourself in the long run, stick to a plan that works, and learn to live with the choices you make rather than learn to begrudgingly tolerate sacrifice for the sake of ephemeral physical transformation goals.

Food Drudgery Blues

My diet has been so crappy these last two months! But it’s under construction and should be back on track. Sigh.

I was great about my paleo-ish, lower-carb, veggie-heavy diet for 5 months. Then, my health went belly-up for four weeks, and then, I underwent a family crisis, and everything went to hell. But soft, I see a light at the end of the tunnel.

It is a light powered by…carrots. Carrots, forever. Oh…great.

I’m getting tired of my usual lunch rotation. I put together four days’ worth of lunches on Sunday night, grumbling to myself the whole way about the soft cheese wedges I’d been avoiding eating for so long. But I know I’ve got to knuckle down and eat these foods again, or reasonable analogs, if I want to get back on track with my weight loss and not go back up the yo-yo string to where I was before.

My brain says no more snap peas or strawberries. Well, who cares what my brain wants! It got me into this situation in the first place; it clearly doesn’t know what it’s doing! Except the part that is telling me to eat snap peas and strawberries. Unfair, you say? We practice discrimination ’round these parts against unfettered food cravings. We are all about the informed decision-making. Even if sometimes we let the cravings in through the side door and try not to tell the sheriff what’s going on.

Avoiding food boredom, or what’s new on my plate over the last few weeks:

  • Full-fat cottage cheese, 1/2 to 1 cup, with 1 teaspoon Smuckers All Fruit with Fiber raspberry jam.
  • Apples. APPLES APPLES APPLES. APPLES. It is time.
  • Hummus.
  • A wine called gewürztraminer. I can’t pronounce it, I can only drink it. I’m not a big fan of alcohol in general, but this hits the spot.
  • Canned artichokes hearts, mushrooms, and green beans, straight from the can.

The other day, I realized that I was craving salty foods. I eat a lot of minimally processed foods and low sodium foods when I have a choice, so I wondered if I was skewing my salt intake way too low. After doing some reading, I learned that I need to increase my water intake, as that’s a sign of dehydration and not necessarily a sign of some kind of mineral deficiency, like my brain automatically assumed. Why look in the most obvious place first! Let’s look for some deeper, awful cause instead of “DRINK WATER.” So, drink your damn water.

I’ve started also adding fiber gummy supplements back to my diet. Yep. I am officially old, even though the gumminess makes me feel like I’m taking something marketed to kids.

I dread the thought of firing up my apps for either Livestrong or Slimkicker and counting calories again, though I will probably start using the SK app more often to keep track of fitness, now that that’s once more on my mind. Counting calories gets very old very quickly. But if that’s what I need to do, then I’ll get it done. And hey, according to one of those apps, gewürztraminer only has about 120 calories for a 5-ounce serving and low carbs! I can get behind that!

I don’t always have to enjoy my food or my meals. It would be nice. I’m just not in the mindset for it now. But something will change, or I’ll adopt a new favorite food, or I’ll just get over it, and I’ll be happy again.

Did I mention…apples??????? BECAUSE…

Apples

APPLES.

Links: Why So Cereal

Sorry I’ve been AFK. I’ve dealt with health issues and a family crisis for the past few weeks, and I’m just now feeling like a productive member of society once more. Have some links and a look at the foods I’ve been eating lately.

  • I stole this link from a friend, and I want to post it everywhere, ever: The Terrible Tragedy of the Healthy Eater. It is so easy to make yourself crazy with the self-imposed eating habits, keeping up with spurious blog claims, reading forums written by the self-righteous and condescending. Everybody, you have my permission to chill the eff out about your food and laugh at yourself.
  • Funny recipe/life blog PaleOMG is always worth reading. Sometimes I just look at the pictures, sigh about how boring my life is in comparison, and then go on to the recipes.
A 4-photo spread of food.

What I’ve been eating. Top left: grilled chicken, grilled bison burger with bleu cheese, sauteed asparagus, and pasta salad. Top right: My grocery haul, including all manner of seasonal fruit, squash, fresh veggies, and wine. Bottom left: dinner from last night was carrots, raw sliced mushrooms, and a cranberry trail mix. Bottom right: lunch from last week of raw carrots, baked chicken in rosemary and butter, and a diced Bartlett pear.

  • Speaking of recipes, Rantings of an Amateur Chef regularly makes stuff that I would love to have on my plate. Step-by-step recipe photos, a wide ranges of food topics, daily posts, and plenty of variety make this a must-read for those whose palates would benefit from experiencing something new.
  • And then, tooting my own horn as one of the team of moderators on Reddit’s 90 Days Goal community, here’s my Saturday post about seasonal food. I’ll be posting the daily posts on Saturdays. I think food is such a widely varied subject that it deserves all the talking about it can get, and I’ll be contributing to that conversation between mods and community members.