Tag Archives: Photos

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!

10 Years Aboard the Treadmill of Sisyphus Later…

My weight loss collage, showing my body from 2003 to 2013, lumps and all.

My weight loss collage, showing my body from 2003 to 2013, lumps and all.

I recently posted this image on my social media pages. It showcases my history over the last two years, as well as gives me a clear-eyed view of how my body has looked in the past and how far I have come since I completely changed my diet. Here is the text I put with it:

For most of my life, I’ve struggled with my weight. I’ve been winning the war these last two years, and it’s still a bit strange to see my wish outside of myself at long last. Most of my friends here in Kentucky only know me as the more svelte, healthy-eating person they see today instead of the person I was during my college years in Memphis and my decade of grown-up life in Dallas. I worked hard to get where I am today, and I’m grateful to have had the right circumstances to make my commitment easier, the ability to afford to eat the way I do, the push from my doctor in the right direction, and the unwavering support of my boyfriend to help me get here. There is a part of me that will always be that insecure, overweight person who was always worried about the numbers on the scale and how well jackets worked at disguising abdominal fat. I have a history that informs who I am today, just like everyone else does, and this is my tale, told in photos taken over the last decade.

I took pains to not try to fat-shame myself in the past or anyone who looks like me. I am glad that I shed weight, as I much better like my health, my appearance, and the way the world treats me since I got thinner, but I don’t want to disparage who I was in the past, paint my life as perfect now (your problems don’t magically get better as you weigh less), or put down anyone who is still going through their own body struggle. Not everyone is me, the same methods won’t work for everyone, not everybody is the same. And I didn’t lose weight *at* anybody. I lost it for me, for the sake of my health and to help my boyfriend’s insomnia.

It was work giving up foods that I love that weren’t always healthy, and it is work now trying to pass up sugary sweets and justify to myself eating food that’s not on my diet. I’m not perfect, and I’ve definitely hit my roadblocks along the way, be they motivational, related to family tragedy, or health-related.

But I’m still going strong. I’m still happy as a participant and moderator of a Reddit community based around fitness, health, and life goal achievement. I’m happy making nutritious soups from scratch that fit closely within my dietary parameters. I’m very happy putting on my shoes and running as often as my body and the weather allow me to run.

Pants Retirement Ceremony

Today, we bid adieu to the sisters Pants: gray striped, black, and navy.

The pants sisters, retiring to a nice home elsewhere.

The pants sisters, retiring to a nice home elsewhere.

I bought them last year as part of my professional post-weight-loss wardrobe. They served me well for months, enduring a little weight fluctuation, lots of trips to and from the printer, and being cursed at for having no belt loops. Alas, I don’t have the sewing skill to add belt loops that would look like they naturally belong to these pants, even though I now have a sewing machine. And so, the circle of life begins anew, and these pants go on to a new home.

I decided to retire them tonight as I put away laundry because I have purchased 3 new pairs of pants at a thrift store over the last month: gray plaid with a light pink stripe, gray striped, and very dark gray. (Gray may be my favorite color when it comes to clothing. It’s just so damn classy.)

I may have also decided to get rid of them so I could free up space in my closet for new clothes and wouldn’t have to put away those 3 pairs of pants. Yes, I would rather give away clothing than follow through with the laundry. We’ve all been there.

The pants I’m retiring are U.S. size 12s. The new pants I purchased are two in size 10 and one in size 8. Every brand fits a little differently, and I spent a lot of time in the clothing racks plucking out every viable-seeming candidate from a range of sizes before heading to the dressing room and depositing the losers on the return rack.

Unflattering fit aside, what is up with the embroidery?

Unflattering fit aside, what is up with the embroidery?

The retiring pants were all of the same fit and brand, all 3 bought all at the same time, and I am moving them along as a unit. Are they some kind of sisterhood of trousers that journey together? I wouldn’t go that far. But they were, to me, a symbol of the smaller person I was becoming, the first full-price clothing purchase I made of nice clothes for my changing body. I started wearing them less and less as I got better-fitting replacements, and I knew their time was short when I started finding high-quality, gently used trousers at the thrift store that didn’t have to be held up with safety pins.

My new pants, newly washed and hung to dry, will start their new life upholstering my rear end starting tomorrow. Hopefully, it will be a while before I have to hold them up with pins. They do have a major advantage over my old pants: they all have belt loops.

Tape Measure Results

For two years now, I’ve been a participant in Reddit’s 90daysgoal community, where we challenge ourselves in three-month increments to better our fitness, health, food, and anything else. We’re nearing the final check-in for the latest round. On Monday morning, I got out the tape measure and tracked my latest progress. I weigh myself most Mondays, and I measure my neck, waist, and hips about once a month or so. It’s rewarding because I am still making measurable progress in my measurements, despite the scale being kind of stuck for the last two months.

While I was doing physical therapy and just joining the 90daysgoal community, I took a lot of “before” photos and collected tape measure data points from all over my body. Yesterday, I measured again. The changes my body has undergone between November 2011 and October 2013 are amazing, and I’m proud to share the results now.

Measurements, two years on.

Measurements, two years on.

It has its down sides: I gave a bunch of clothes to my sister, who is in the process of losing baby weight, and she looks so much cuter in my shirts and sweaters than I ever did. This is the story of my life. And when I bake delicious desserts, I usually don’t have any, avoiding sugars and starches like my doctor asked me.

Soon, I’ll slip beneath the 150-pound mark, and I’ll be ever closer to my goal weight of 140. I’ve got more work ahead of me before I’ll get into maintenance mode. The marathon of staying healthy once I’ve reached my own arbitrary destination is going to be a somewhat difficult course to stay. Maybe I’ll never be completely satisfied with my results. But I do know that I loved my body when I was working on fixing it, I love it now that I’ve lost fat and am putting on muscle from running, and I’ll love it no matter what changes are wrought by age, time, circumstance, and deliberate action. I’ll never be satisfied, but I’ll never stop trying to be better, and I know I’ll never stop enjoying the fight.

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.

It Is Still Fresh Air, Even If It Smells Like Manure

The out-of-doors in the summer. It’s gorgeous! It’s covered in bees! It’s covered in kudzu, wildflowers, horses, crops, and cows, too, as far as I can tell.

Ahh, the countryside.

Ahh, the countryside.

The temperature has been more than reasonable most of this week – 75-80F (24-27C), partly cloudy, breezy. The place where I live has gentle, rolling hills and shade trees and farmland all mixed together. It’s ideal.

I haven’t been walking much the last 7 months, ever since I moved into my own house with a yard that didn’t leave dog-walking as a necessity anymore. Moreover, I took my dogs out a few months ago, and we were attacked by a dog that came off its chain down the street. So there’s been precious few dog-accompanied adventures, and until recently, precious few adventures undertaken solo.

I have enjoyed walking down to the flat bridge over a nearby creek. I’ve only been on that walk a few times, though. Part of that is the mental battle I have with that steep-ass hill that leads down to the creek. The 1.3 miles down to the creek is almost completely downhill. The trip back up is not really a lot of fun. The creek is usually lovely and enjoyable to watch for a few minutes. I have rediscovered my love of skipping stones on the water, and I usually come away with a memento, such as a little geode I plan to clean up and put on my desk at work.

Flat bridge ahoy! So beautiful and calm! And at the bottom of a mile-long steep grade! Bleh!

Flat bridge ahoy! So beautiful and calm! And at the bottom of a mile-long steep grade! Bleh!

The main problem with walking down the main road to work out: traffic. I’m not very keen on sharp hill crests and turns where I could be a surprise object in the roadway. I try to cross the road, or walk in the tall grass in ditches on the side of the road, if I hear a vehicle coming. But there are a lot of ticks in this part of the country, and they sometimes hang out in the tall grass, waiting. Planning. Scheming. Hungry. The ticks and I are at war. There are no survivors once they are found in my house, on my pets, and especially on my person. The first line of defense is a good offense, and that means walking on the road when I can.

Being an explorer and a self-preservationist, I decided to walk in the opposite direction of the bridge the other day, opting for a nearby single-lane, paved, quiet road that winds through the main Mennonite settlement in my county. It was a good choice. I mean, the county where I live is just chock full of natural beauty anyway; it’s really nice to be able to walk slowly through it and appreciate it up close without fear of being run over by an F-250 every two minutes. While on this slender thread of pavement through lush farmland and riotous green woods, I gave directions to some lost folks in a pick-up and waved politely at anyone who passed me, whether they were in work trucks or open-air horse-drawn buggies. I felt that I looked out of place, walking along a road mostly traveled by farm workers while in my bright teal workout shirt (get your rear in gear!), headphones, hiking boots, sunglasses, and knee brace. But I was also very at-home in my surroundings. I spent some of my childhood summers on a sprawling farm just outside of town: riding bikes down dirt roads, looking at the cows, trying to rescue birds from oil ponds bubbling up next to little-used derricks, and picking blackberries. I’ve always loved the outdoors, and living in a place where I can more easily appreciate it year-round is a gift I will always cherish.

Wide open spaces and a seldom-used fork in the road.

Wide open spaces and a seldom-used fork in the road.

Meeting house, complete with water pump and hitching posts.

Meeting house, complete with water pump and hitching posts.

I photographed all kinds of wildlife while I was out earlier this week. I was delighted to find a small waterfall lurking behind foliage, trickling slowly into a creek that wound under a bridge and into a pasture where several beautiful honey-colored horses grazed in the midday sun. I marked that bridge as my halfway point to make an approximate 5k (~3.1 miles) from my starting point. When I reached that point again today, the horses were gone, and there was something very dead by the creek. It smelled terrible, and it persisted for a tenth of a mile. Then, on my way back to my starting point, the wind had shifted to where I was upwind, and I managed to be in the path of the breeze after it had passed over every single pile of horse manure on the road. I took it in stride in the name of better health.

I had a great couple of walks, though I know my calves are going to be sore for a few days. Months of activity followed up by three 5k walks in a single week? Not without consequences. At least I had the foresight to wear my ankle brace and my knee brace both. And sunscreen, most of the time.

Future home of freckles.

Future home of freckles.

Now, it is time to talk tragedy. My amazing hiking boots that I got last fall, which have seen me through many miles with my dogs and on my own, suffered an eyelet loss earlier today. Quel dommage!

ALORS. Now my laced-up boot looks ridiculous.

ALORS. Now my laced-up boot looks ridiculous.

I’ll figure out a fix – it may involve heavy-duty glue, or an awl, or something. The boots are otherwise fine, and I might even be able to get away with still wearing them in their current, stupidly-laced state for a while yet to come.

Another lesser tragedy: my old sports bras are now in dire need of replacement. They are not structured at all; I bought one at Target, another on sale at a sporting goods store, and I bought them both to wear to physical therapy when I was 40 pounds heavier than I weigh now. It’s going to be a while before I can afford a really good underwired upgrade, so I may either tailor one of them or buy something inexpensive to get me through the fall at a big box retailer.

My less-than-sturdy body parts are doing well; little ankle soreness, no knee complaints to speak of, and even my surgery scars are all right. I am still ever-mindful of too much exercise straining my abdominal surgery scars. No pain so far after my third walk in a week, but it could take a day or two for that to still happen.

Wake Up Your Legs, Woman

I’ve been moved into my new house for two months, and until yesterday, I had never walked farther than almost to the outlet of my cul-de-sac. It’s winter! I’ve been hard at work! Yesterday, I was tired of doing nothing, and even though I was on the threshold of sick, I went for my first serious walk since the move.

I had been used to hour-long walks with 60 pounds of dog dragging me up and down hills. I figured walking by myself for as long as I could take it would be a snap. And for the first part, it was. Beautiful day, gorgeous countryside, picturesque cows and horses – and best of all, the dead opossum had been cleared off the road. The land sloped ever downhill toward the creek, and I kept going.

About halfway into my trek, I thought to myself, “Walking back up this hill is going to be a bad time.”

Descent into a creek valley.
Once I reached a gentle grassy hill that reached the lip of the water, I sat on a rock for a few minutes and watched the stream. I took some pictures. Then, it was time to head back up the hill. My pedometer app on my phone told me I’d walked 1.36 miles. As I squinted at my phone in the sun and looked back at the road winding up the hill, I felt encouraged at how rested I felt. “I feel great for not having done any exercise or walking for two months. This should be ok.”

Two minutes later.

The wrong side of a hill.
I took off my light jacket and made my way around the curve, winded but enjoying the exertion, through the steepest part of the ascent. I think it’s been long enough that I felt the burn, but I was more than capable of accomplishing the walk without having to stop and catch my breath.

The land began to level off a bit after a half mile or so, and I went back to taking photos and inhaling deeply the cool air (this became more shallow breathing when the wind was coming off a well-used horse pasture).

Hay.
Today, my calves are a little sore. Tomorrow, I’ll likely feel that soreness even more. But I had a great time. And if I wasn’t sick today, I’d make plans to walk the same route tomorrow to give my underused calf muscles a chance to stretch out and help me do what I most love to do: enjoy the physicality of being alive.

Later this week, I’m setting up my physical therapy gym in the spare room of my house to get back to work on my shoulder. I stretch every day, but it needs more work. Spring seems like the best time to get back to the business of repairing myself, getting serious about my eating habits, and enjoying some time outdoors.