Aprovechar

Taking the full measure of life

The Big Question Marks

February 8th, 2009 · 20 Comments

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When I quit my job, it seemed so plain to me:  I needed to quit my job. I love to write.  I had already researched freelance writing extensively.  The plan fit.  I knew the path wouldn’t be easy, but I felt pretty euphoric about it.

And then I crashed into an emotional wall and fell to the floor in a crumpled heap.  We had plenty of money in savings (not just in stocks), but when our investments took a nose dive within two weeks of me quitting my job, I found myself with twinges of panic flicking my sternum.  Perhaps that was the beginning—I don’t know; I can’t pick it all apart.  At times, I still felt fine:  felt solid about my choices, felt good about the future, felt silly and happy.  But other times, the panic grew to overwhelm me.  Twice, sobbing, I called my husband in such a fit of panic and depression that he came home from school to be with me.  Having him near me, even if he was still in the office at home working, kept the panic at bay just enough that I could function.

I couldn’t write about it; even though I knew it was thoughtful honesty that brought many people back to my blog time and again, I felt like a fraud for writing about self-care when I felt so awful, and I felt too embroiled in how I was feeling to have any clarity to write about it.  I couldn’t write, or at least I felt I couldn’t write very well, about anything, and the pressure I felt to be writing was enormous.  It was overwhelming.  Every time a person asked me how my magazine writing was going, I cringed.  Every time a person told me I should write a book, I felt trapped. Even as I realized my feelings weren’t logical, I felt like many of these very supportive people were really trying to trap me, to let me know they knew I’d fail. I stammered out half-true responses that felt utterly inadequate.  The truth was, I was frozen in my writing developments.  A sense of doom and anxiety overwhelmed me when I tried to move forward with writing.  Any time I could sense my husband was frustrated or annoyed (and that’s not infrequently right now, since he’s under the pressure of a Ph.D. thesis), I was certain—without even asking him—that he was mad at me, and rightfully so. Self-given epithets that I thought were gone from my mental vocabulary came creeping back in.  You’ve always been lazy at the heart of it all. I fought back with all the powers in my self-care toolkit, and still I felt inadequate for the challenge.  Time and money I spent on self-care (exercise, acupuncture, cooking), even though it was entirely legitimate, made me feel guilty and left my brain largely free to question my life.  Why couldn’t I write, after all? What did it mean about me? What was wrong with me? Was I doomed to cycles of deep depression for the rest of my life? What was the point of my life, anyway? If I wasn’t contributing by doing meaningful work, what was the point of me being here at all?

In the moments and hours and days I was overcome this way, I felt like I was spiraling downward, and I didn’t even know what to do.  One day I was mostly okay; the next I felt awful.  I struggled with the idea that I was even depressed.  Then the month we spent outside of town house-sitting for a friend left me even more isolated within my own mind. At that time, my husband began hearing back from the various companies and organizations who had been so gung-ho to hire him just a couple of months before.  “I’m sorry to tell you we have a company-wide hiring freeze.” ” . . . hiring freeze.” ” . . . hiring freeze.” “Not hiring right now.” “Don’t have funding to hire you.” “Would hire you in a heartbeat if I could, but I can’t.” Oh God, I thought. Have I given up the financial stability of regular employment just to ruin us?

(“You’re not ruining us,” he responded to my latest flood of tears, his arms around me. “We’ll get through this. No, I don’t regret marrying you at all—don’t be silly.  We’re going to be okay.” His own fears and stress, legitimate and irrational, had to take a backseat to soothing mine; knowing that deepened my guilt.)

I was taking the steps I knew to work through the anguish:  keep doing normal activities.  Don’t force yourself to do everything, but maintain your life’s rhythms. Reach out to people you feel you can trust. Exercise. Be gentle with yourself. It’s okay to take some time off to get to feeling better, I told myself determinedly.  I thought about going to apply for new jobs, but that thought panicked me as well.  I felt trapped within the vortex of emotions that tossed me around over and over, no matter what route I took.

In the vein of being gentle with myself, I went to the library to check out a couple of novels (randomly plucked off a shelf) to read.  When all else fails, escape into another world. I started one novel and finished it the next day.  I started the second novel on the third day.  At first, I couldn’t get into it, and I laid it aside.  Later in the day, with a heavy heart, I climbed into bed to try reading again.  A few more pages into it, I found myself more ensconced. My eyes darted across the lines, reading, to a passage within the book where the author interwove the lives of the characters with the theology of Paul Tillich.  Infinite possibility, Tillich said.  We have in our lives in every moment infinite possibility—the choice at any moment to choose from a broad set of choices the path our lives will take next.  Even when we feel trapped, we have options.  It’s what we choose in a given moment that gives us the next set of options that will appear before us. It’s the challenge of our whole lives to have the courage, over and over, to accept that our lives are broken by their very nature, but still to choose to lean into our lives to let ourselves become more fully the people we are meant to become.

My breath caught.  I reread the passages about Tillich, I considered how the author was weaving the meaning of his work into the book, and when I breathed again, I felt like my chest was able to open more widely than it had in months. . . .  That’s the task before us that brings us closer to God’s intentions, Tillich says. That’s why we are here—not to perform any one particular act, but to have courage in becoming more fully who we are meant to be. We are all afraid of death and fate, loneliness and guilt, meaninglessness. Those deep-seated fears are at the heart of many of our untrue actions.  What’s before us in our lives is to be as true as we can, accepting those fears but not letting them keep us from developing the best of who we are.

I fail at expressing these ideas adequately.  Despite being religious, I am no regular student of theological writing, and I am not a theological writer.  Nonetheless, when I gleaned the concepts from the novel, and later as I researched the concepts further, I saw the truth of Tillich’s theology reflected in my own life. And when I saw my life from that vantage point, where before I had felt stuck, I saw options spreading out before me.  I saw that I didn’t have to find the ultimate answer to any problem in that moment. I didn’t have to have the answer to the big questions. I saw that, instead, I had to make one good choice that would open up to me new choices, and then I had to choose a good choice again.  I had to choose true choices that would let me be more fully the genuine version of myself, and that action repeated would bring me more fully into the person God placed me here to become.  And I saw that, even when I stumble into decisions that fill me with fear, doubt, or uncertainty, the options again are before me—new options, but options that give me the opportunity to choose a true path for my life again.  I saw that those choices might—but wouldn’t necessarily—lead me to any enormous, grand action in life, but that they would lead me to be a more complete version of the person I was set on Earth to be—which is to say, to lead me to a good, purposeful, genuine life.

So . . . first things first. I knew I was feeling depressed. I knew that every year, I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder: starting in about October and ending about March, I find myself feeling gloomier than I feel the rest of the year.  Okay, time to make a good choice, if an expensive one:  I did some research and found that the Mayo Clinic says that SAD lamps do clinically appear to create positive results in many depressed people.  Okay, the Mayo Clinic is good enough evidence for me.  I read a bunch of reviews of various lamps and ordered a mid-priced 10,000-lux, full-spectrum SAD lamp.  When it came in, I began sitting under it each morning for 30 minutes while I ate breakfast.  Within three days, my energy level began to improve, and my mood calmed a bit.  I began to crave sitting under the lamp, and on gloomy days, I started turning it on for as long as an hour.  I told my husband that I didn’t know whether it was a placebo effect or an actual result of the lamp, but I was glad we’d bought it.  If nothing else, the lamp made me feel proactive in treating my depression.

We moved back into town into our new, long-term house-sitting location—a block from the apartment where we’d lived for 2.5 years.  Back in my home base, I felt more connected to the community.  I felt soothed by the proximity of the large city park.  I was able to go to the gym more easily, and I returned to a more regular routine.

My husband, rather tentatively, brought up with me the book Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven-Stage Journey Out of Depression.  He’d read about someone who’d had great success in moving beyond depression with the book.  He asked me whether I’d be interested in him getting me a copy of the book, and I told him yes.  Lo and behold, the author’s premise is that depression, most of the time, isn’t just a mental state that’s brought on by or can be fixed long-term by taking a pill.  Instead, depression is our body’s way of telling us we need to make some changes in our lives.  Depression doesn’t mean something is terribly wrong with us at our core; depression just means we need to reconfigure pieces of our lives to fit who we are and what we need—to get ourselves, appropriately enough, unstuck.  The book offers a systematic approach to figuring out what might be causing us emotional issues from a purely biological standpoint (thyroid problems, food intolerances, sugar crashes, etc.); considering and enhancing what is working for us in our lives; and discovering what isn’t working so that we can work on changing our life elements that are not in line with who we’re meant to be. One of the tenets of the book is that we write prescriptions for ourselves to give ourselves permission to pay good attention to what feeds the best in us.

Between Tillich and Unstuck, I grew deeply aware of the fact that I have created space in my life for myself to heal if I will just take advantage of it.  I’ve spent many years sick and worn down.  For most of my life, I’ve been sick far more often than most other people I know (even during the last two years, wherein I have felt much better than before while spending more time, energy, and money on good self-care than most people I know).  Since I became an adult, the sicknesses have piled up at different times with financial stress, school stress, family stress, job stress, romantic stress, commuting stress . . . and—especially as someone who is very emotionally and physically sensitive—I’ve often been overloaded.  When I left my job, part of what happened is that my body began unloading some of that stress that I hadn’t been dealng with entirely.  I had been dealing with the stress in the best ways I knew how, yet I obviously hadn’t dealt with it fully, since upsets about past stressors rose to the surface within weeks once my time was free.  It’s no wonder I felt overloaded!

I began to see this stage of my life differently.  “I have to take care of me,” I told my husband I’d realized. “I’m the only me I’ve got.  For what it’s worth, I’m the only me the world’s got.  I’ve tried to care for myself, but things have just stacked up to reach critical mass, and I feel like my body is acting that out.  If I take care of other things well but don’t take good care of me, I may lose myself—I often lately feel like that’s what’s happening—and then I’ll have nothing. If I take care of me, even if it means focusing largely on taking care of me to the exclusion of other things I’d like to do right now, then that means I’ll be able to give more when I’m more healed.  And by the nature of what I’m doing—by learning what habits and actions I need in my life—I’ll be working on becoming a better version of myself as I go.”

Becoming deeply accepting of the idea of expending lots of time and energy on healing myself has been a godsend for me.  My regular exercise is a gift.  My new plan to nourish myself with a frequent-flyer-mile trip to see my best friend (who moved to California in the fall) is exciting. My energy spent on meal-planning and cooking is extensive, but nurturing. My slow breakfast under my SAD lamp is pleasurable. My energy is more relaxed, and my thinking is clearer.  My stressors, though still inevitably present, are easier to manage.  I’m starting to feel like I can manage life again.

Though my husband’s Ph.D. student salary is small, we have been careful to set up our lives so that we can live on what he makes for the time being. (If taking this step meant we depleted our savings, it’s less likely it would be healing. If it meant we went into debt, it’s likely it would be harmful to my self-care, as I know from the past that debt is a huge burden on me. But neither of those should happen with this set-up.)  Our set-up gives me the very fortunate opportunity to explore what feeds and heals me.  If I’m writing or contributing financially in other ways at this time, that’s great.  But I don’t actually have to be.  Even writing this, it seems almost blasphemously self-indulgent to state that it’s okay for just taking care of myself to be my first priority of my life at this point, but I have learned—my body has been forcing me to learn—that if I don’t remain flexible in learning how to care for myself, if I don’t make myself a priority, I will end up depleted . . . and lost.  Making good decisions about taking care of myself means making responsible, thoughtful decisions for my life, with an emphasis on being aware of my physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual needs. And those good choices will naturally lead me to other options for a trajectory toward a life that’s more healed, more fully developed, more meaningful, and more giving.

Resources

The Courage to Be by Paul Tillich—A series of talks given by Paul Tillich, in book form, about our purpose, the struggles therein, and how to cope with those struggles. I have done a bit of research on Tillich and his beliefs and existentialism since reading the novel that started me on this process, but I haven’t actually read all of The Courage to Be itself yet. It just arrived at my library’s hold desk for me to pick it up yesterday.

Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven-Stage Journey Out of Depression by James S. Gordon, M.D.—The work that this book asks you to do is pretty intense, given that you’re probably depressed (or at least pretty down) if you start reading it, but if you want to avoid medication and think finding the ideas and strength to make life changes has the slightest possibility of transforming you, it’s definitely worth a read.

The SAD lamp I use every day—I originally looked at getting one that cost twice as much, but this one has mostly good reviews from several sources.  Research indicates it’s best for your eyes and for your depression to get a full-spectrum, 10,000 lux light to use for Seasonal Affective Disorder.  I like that this lamp can be put on a stand so that it’s a bit above your eyes instead of staring straight at you. I can read a book or use my computer while still getting the benefits of the lamp and without getting bad eye strain.

The Solace of Leaving Early by Haven Kimmel—this is the novel I was reading that improved my perspective on life.  Perhaps I just read it exactly when I needed it, but I think Kimmel does an amazing job of tying the novel’s pieces together while keeping things real.  I’m looking forward to reading her other novels and her memoirs now.

→ 20 CommentsTags: gratitude · sturm and drang · winter

Health, Food Allergy, & Sustainability Tidbits for You

February 3rd, 2009 · 8 Comments

It’s been about a hundred years since I did a tidbits post.  I kid you not when I say that I had about 200—two hundred!—tabs open in Firefox that I needed to go through and close yesterday.  Some of those were links I was considering sharing with you. Here are a few of the best just in time for your afternoon procrastination (or, you know, whenever else you happen to read this).

I love hot chocolate. Lurrrrrrve hot chocolate.  But it really hasn’t been the same without dairy.  The dairy subs I’ve tried using leave the drink too chocolatey . . . not quite smooth enough.  Angela’s Kitchen has a slow-cooker recipe for dairy-free hot chocolate that combines coconut milk with other milk alternatives to give it a creamy texture.  I plan on taking this recipe on my church’s young adults retreat at the end of February.

Kate at Gluten-Free Gobsmacked is busy making all sorts of yummy treats while she waits for the call to go pick up her new daughter from Korea.  She’s created a gluten-free homemade Oreo recipe—it does call for an egg, though I wonder if Ener-G egg replacer might work in this case—that looks divine.

This recession is hard, in one way or another, on many of us. (I say this as my husband gets dressed to go to a job fair for Ph.D. students from his school.  Graduating this coming summer may put him in the worst of it. Most places where he wants to apply have hiring freezes.)  The recession is very hard on a small (so far) percentage of us, and we shouldn’t forget that in this time of collective need, there are those who especially need our care and concern.  It’s an important time to make sure we help our neighbors through person-to-person contact and donations to nonprofits who help those in need.  It’s also important to consider what the recession might offer us.  After all, sometimes bad news turns out to be the news that teaches us what we needed to learn.  Helen at Stripy Sock Studio considers this idea in her post “Sometimes A Step Backwards Is Progress.”

When I say ‘your elevator story’ in terms of business, do you know what I mean? It’s the version of why you’re doing what you’re doing that you can give someone who asks you between the time the elevator shuts on one floor and opens on another.  I struggle with that type of thinking/speaking, because so much of life is nuanced and has a major backstory.  (When people ask me how I found out I had food allergies and gluten intolerance, I have to start out with the fact that my husband was hit by a car, since that’s what ‘woke up’ my body to giving me the worst symptoms.  That inevitably derails the conversation for twenty minutes while we talk about his terrible accident.) I often struggle to explain the process of finding out gluten intolerance (how the gluten content of wheat has changed over time, why I went with a nontraditional test in the end, etc.) without feeling like I sound a bit nutty.  So I was very pleased to find and read The Gluten Connection by Dr. Shari Lieberman, which explains about as concisely as possible why gluten intolerance (and often casein intolerance) is at the heart of so many medical problems in today’s world.  Dr. Lieberman may at times go a bit far in her projections of gluten as the cause of various issues, but it’s certainly true that people struggling with many issues may find health relief in removing gluten/casein, even if gluten isn’t the cause of some of their issues.  Dr. Lieberman also explains why the diagnostic process I went through is valid—and why traditional tests for celiac miss so many of us who are gluten intolerant.  If you’ve thought gluten intolerance might be an issue for you or you struggle to explain it to others like I have, I highly recommend this book!

I found this article about when to quit (and how entrepreneurs may differ from the rest of us about quitting) both comforting and thought-provoking. Many of us walk through life struggling regularly with that question as it arises in various facets of our lives.

Those of us who are working to lead healthier, more sustainable lives for our own good and the good of the rest of the planet have to think about myriad issues.  One of the issues that hasn’t gotten my appropriate attention yet is the origin of my clothes.  Neatorama has a great post entitled “Meet the People Who Made Your Clothes.”  It would do us all good to understand what we’re asking for when we seek out the best ‘bargain’, and to understand why—when it’s possible for us—it’s important to invest in other people’s welfare as well as our own.

Mark Bittman, one of my favorite food authors because he makes me think, has a great article in the NYT about reconsidering some of the kitchen staples and their alternatives.  He gets a lot of flack in the comments from people who think he’s being elitist, but truly, many of his suggestions are not expensive or very time-consuming, and they do often equal tastier food. Many of us on the path to healthier lives have found that extending the time we’re willing to be involved in food prep means we can be more satisfied with our food, bodies, and lives in the long run, and that’s the approach Bittman often takes. I don’t always agree with his thoughts, but I always consider my own views and habits more deeply when I read his articles. If you wonder if your relationship with food and food prep could use a bit of tweaking, I highly recommend Bittman’s article “Fresh Start for the New year? Let’s Begin in the Kitchen.”

With a ginger-adoring husband, I have intended to alter Heidi’s triple-ginger cookies to make the recipe gluten-free and egg-free.  I haven’t gotten around to it, and we won’t be doing it in February.  If another ginger lover who’s gluten-free or egg-free out there whips some up and they turn out well, please let me know what you did!

The White House released the menu and recipes from the inaugural luncheon, which I thought was really cool. How often do you have any idea what people are eating at those functions, much less have the option to try the recipes at home?)

Chefs who focus on locally grown, sustainable food sources are pushing Obama to take measures to improve U.S. food policy and support small farmersEat the View is a project that’s pushing for the President and First Lady (or more accurately, their staff) to grow an organic food garden on the White House lawn, as Eleanor Roosevelt previously did. I would love the symbolism in a White House organic food garden! (You can sign the petition at the site.) Seeing action in these directions would be a dream come true for me. (I am a sustainability geek AND a food geek, after all.)

Babycakes is a gluten-free, allergen-free bakery in NYC—a mecca for many of us who are avoiding certain foods.  Martha Stewart had the Babycakes owner on her show to share recipes.  You can see the video and get the brownies recipe on Martha’s blog.

Two studies have found significant mercury in high-fructose corn syrup.  (Apparently, mercury can be a side effect of the process of making HFCS.)  So much for ‘safe in moderation’ as those awful ads would have you believe.

Select Wisely offers a set of customizable food allergy cards that you can get in a variety of languages.  I wish they had a gluten option to add to a regular card, but in general, I’m pleased to see them recognize multiple food allergies.  When I visited Japan, my husband had a Japanese friend write out my food restrictions in Japanese on a card we laminated; while I was there, I met a guy who had the same type of homemade laminated card because he was a vegan. Those cards were lifesavers for both of us.

I can’t usually tell you whether foods I make will get a kid’s stamp of approval, since it’s generally just me and my husband (or our adult friends) eating the foods.  But when I made this vegan, soy-free, nooch-free mac and cheese (I made it with gf pasta), we had two friends visiting along with their 3-year-old son.  The boy can be a picky eater at times, but he gobbled up the mac and cheese with no comments about it tasting weird.  So if you’re looking for ways to slip more veggies into your kids’ diets and/or lighten up your mac and cheese, check out that recipe.

Whew—I think that’s it for now.

→ 8 CommentsTags: allergen-free recipes · dessert · gratitude · locavore · vegetarian

Support for the Year of Self-Care: Grocery Planning & Shopping

January 21st, 2009 · 13 Comments

How’s your grocery planning and weekly shopping coming along? Victories? Dramas? Difficulties?

Elisa from Bo Bee Sah left a comment a few days ago, saying, “I’m so incredibly glad that I found you when I did! We, as a family, were ready for this change. Meal planning is very new to me, but so far it’s been absolutely fantastic!! I love that I can reach into the fridge and put together several meals, chock full of veggies, too!” It’s great to hear it’s going so well for Elisa—speak up and let us all know how it’s going for you, as well.  If it’s going well, tell us what you’ve found.  If you’re struggling, let us help you brainstorm.

It can be easy to get stuck or overwhelmed when you are trying to write down your meal plan for the week–especially when you’re new at it or when you’re feeling tired or worn-out.  As you’re sitting with your blank meal plan sheet, your mind can also go blank, you can find yourself thinking only of entirely inappropriate meals (for the season, for your lifestyle, for your week’s energy level), or you can find yourself thinking only of rich, unhealthy foods that you don’t want to form the staples of your diet. Here are some solutions for your potential troubles.

If you find yourself getting off the meal plan you’ve created, leaving you with lots of food going bad in the fridge, you may need to take a closer look at the energy level your meal plans for various days are requiring of you.  If you are generally tired lately, if you or a loved one has been suffering from an illness, if your job is overloading you, etc., there is no shame in specifically planning easy meals (even for every meal for the week!).  The keys are to make sure those meals are mostly healthy and are satisfying for you.

If you find yourself running over with leftovers, assign one day a week to be your leftover day, when you and your family eat those foods instead of creating new meals.  If you tend to find yourself with leftover ingredients, this great website lets you search for recipes that include the ingredients you have and exclude various categories of ingredients (gluten, meat-based, etc.) that you can’t eat or prefer not to eat.  You can also often use up your odds and ends of vegetables and fruits by making a salad, a pureed soup, a vegetable plate, or a loaf (meat, soy, or nut) that includes some or all of those ingredients.  You can also simmer many types of leftover veggies (except the bitter ones) in water to make vegetable broths that you can freeze for later. Homemade broths and stocks have awesome flavor.

If you are stuck while you’re trying to make your meal plan, fill in your meal plan with the meal days and names (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack), fill out your to-do line on the various days using your family’s calendars, and then try one or more of these suggestions:

  • Look through what you have in your refrigerator, freezer, pantry, or incoming CSA order—or think about fruits, vegetables, grains, or proteins you’ve always wanted to try but never have.  Before you try to come up with meals, assign a featured food you’d like to use on a given day. (Examples: Monday–Dinner: Chickpeas; Tuesday–Dinner: Butternut squash.) Then go back and fill in with meal ideas that you come up with when you see the featured meal item.  Search Google, your favorite food blogs, or your favorite food websites for recipes that use that food if nothing comes to mind.
  • If you are trying to save money, assign different expense amounts to different meals, and go from there. (Examples: Monday–Dinner: Cheap; Tuesday–Dinner: Moderate.) Then, using your own knowledge about which foods are at which price level and/or utilizing some creative searches, come up with meals that fit those levels.  (Hint:  It’s generally easier to make inexpensive meals if they are simple.  The fabulous Mark Bittman put a list of 10-minute summer meals on the NYT website last July; you can find it here.  For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, few of those foods are going to be seasonally appropriate now, but they are definitely inspiring.)
  • Review your previous weeks’ meal plans, or the meal plans that you saved this time last year (if you were planning and saving then), to glean ideas for the various meals you’re planning this week. Warning:  Serving the same thing every single week can put you or your family in a rut—it can make you bored with your meals so that you seek new flavors in unhealthy snacks you throw in during the day or so that you overeat trying to get to a point of enjoyment.  For those with food allergies, eating the same thing week after week may contribute to the development of new allergies from overexposure to foods.  It’s good to keep pulling your favorite back in, but it’s also good to experiment with new ideas over time.
  • Consider your to-do list, and label the various meals with the amount of energy you’re guessing you’ll have.  (Examples:  Monday–To Do: Work out from 5:30 to 6:30. Dinner: Easy.  Tuesday: To Do: Take day off from work.  Dinner: Indulgent.) Then consider which of your (or your family’s) favorite meals fit those categories, dig through magazines or cookbooks, and add in recipes that fit your expected energy level.
  • Label the different meals with the names of various ethnic cooking styles that you love or that you have wanted to try. (Examples:  Monday—Dinner: Thai; Tuesday—Dinner: Italian.)  This type of planning can require the use of additional spices for your cooking; if that’s the case and you’re trying to keep cost and waste down, it will be easier on your budget if you have a health foods store that sells spices from bulk bins.  You can purchase just what you need from the bulk bins—avoiding a whole bottle of a spice when your recipe may just call for a teaspoon.  If you live in an area without bulk bins for spices, you could buy them online in small amounts (though there’s a large amount of packaging waste, over time, that way), or you could call an adventurous friend or relative to say, “Hey, I’m going to buy some Chinese five-spice powder because I found a recipe that sounds great, but I don’t need the whole jar. Want to split one?” (Check here for more ideas on how to solve this dilemma.) But even if you initially have to buy whole jars of several spices, many spices are used in multiple cuisines, and you will find some spices that you just adore.  To check out the meal plans of two bloggers who regularly include inspired food from around the world, visit Book of Yum and Fresh Ginger.

Cooking from traditions around the world offers you the ability to explore what is often (or can be created as) healthy foods that are so interesting in your mouth that you’re satiated with less of the food.  (My theory:  we don’t just crave foods like Doritos because of the high-pitched crunch or the fat in them, though those are both appealing.  We also crave them because they’re very flavorful—in societies where our food isn’t often seasoned well.) Cooking from the world’s various ethnicities can also be really inexpensive.  Especially for people cooking on food restrictions, cooking from ethnicities where those restricted foods aren’t part of the general eating habits can be a real boon.

One of my recent discoveries from Indian food is dosas.  Dosas are South Indian savory crepes made from lentil flour, rice flour, water, salt, and levener. That’s it! (No eggs, no soy!  A crepe-like flavor and texture–yum!)  If you have several hours and want to be authentic, you can make them from scratch, but for a quick, inexpensive option, you can also buy powdered dosa mix (with no chemical ingredients) at an Indian or multi-ethnic-minority grocery store, or you can buy them online. (Note to those of us who are gluten-free:  rava dosas or rava dosai generally means that there’s wheat in the dosas.  But you should always check ingredients and always ask at Indian restaurants, as some dosas that don’t have ‘rava’ on them still have wheat as an ingredient.) A box of dosa mix from the Indian grocery store that makes 8-11 dosas cost me $0.79.  Yes, that’s 79 cents—less than 10 cents a serving.

You can see a video on how to make dosas from a batter on YouTube. (When you buy a mix, make the batter, and then start with the video instructions. It takes about four minutes from start to finish to make dosas from a mix.) You can eat dosas plain or fill them with any savory food you like—Indian or otherwise.

Here are a few other Indian (or American-ized version of Indian) dishes that we enjoy. All of these recipes serve about five people and are free of gluten, casein, tomatoes, soy, nuts, and eggs:

Pureed Lentil Dal
Dal is one of my husband’s favorite foods.

2 cups red lentils (Using another color is okay, though it may vary the cooking time a bit)
2 Tablespoons ghee (clarified butter–the casein has been removed)
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons (or so) powdered ginger
6 cups vegetable broth
3 Tablespoons curry powder (or less depending on your powder)
salt and pepper

Dunk your lentils in a couple of inches of water, picking off any non-lentil bits that may pop up from the lentil pile.

Drain the lentils well.

Heat the butter in a skillet on med-high. Add garlic, red pepper flakes, and ginger, and stir around for a minute. Add the drained lentils and stir together. Add the vegetable broth and curry powder; heat to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes or until lentils are very soft. (You can cook dal as long as an hour or more.) Use an immersion blender in the pot to puree and fluff your lentils. (Alternately, pour the lentil mixture into the blender and do it there.) Add salt and pepper to taste.

Cauliflower Pakoras (Indian Fritters)

1.5 cups garbanzo flour (chickpea)
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ghee, melted, or vegetable oil
1″ piece of ginger root, frozen (easier to deal with frozen), peeled, and grated on the large side of a grater
1 to 3 poblano peppers (or hot peppers if you are so inclined), chopped
1 Tablespoon ground coriander
2 Tablespoons cilantro, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoons pepper
1/2 c.-2/3 cups water
2 teaspoons dried onion flakes
1/2 teaspoons baking powder
vegetable oil or ghee for deep frying
one head of cauliflower, chopped into florets
additional salt for serving

Wash, chop, and grate the necessary ingredients. Combine chickpea flour, salt, 2 tsp. of softened ghee (or veg. oil), ginger, peppers, coriander, fresh cilantro, chili powder, pepper, and 1/2 cup water in a food processor that has been fitted with metal blade. Cover and process until smooth. If needed, add a little more water; batter should be smooth and a little thicker than heavy cream. Set aside for 15-25 minutes.

Now beat by hand with a wire whisk for 2 minutes and check for consistency—too thin and it will spatter, too thick and the vegetables won’t cook well. Adjust with a little more flour or a little more water. Finally, whisk in the dried onion flakes and baking powder.

In a wok or deep fryer, heat 2-3″ of oil or ghee to 350 F. (med. or one click above med. on most stoves).

tir cauliflower into batter. Scoop out by 1/4 c. into hot oil. Fry until golden brown, turning to fry evenly. Don’t worry if your pakoras break into pieces while you are cooking them. Carefully remove with slotted spoon and place on paper towels/dish rag to drain oil.

When you have finished the first batch, blow on one to cool it, and then try it. Add more spices to the batter if you think the one you are trying is not flavorful enough. Sprinkle the cooked ones with a bit more salt.

You can keep these warm in a pre-heated 200-degree F oven while you fry the rest.

Bangan ka Bhurta (Indian Eggplant)

2 eggplants
4 teaspoons ghee or peanut oil
2 med. onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)
1 teaspoon cumin (or to taste)
1 teaspoon chili powder (or to taste)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 Tablespoons cilantro, chopped

Chop the cilantro and the onion. Set aside (separately).

Preheat the oven broiler. Place eggplants in a roasting pan, and broil 7-10 minutes, turning occasionally, until about 1/2 the skin is scorched black.

Place eggplants in microwave safe dish. Cook 5 minutes on High in the microwave, or until tender. Cool enough to handle, and remove skin, leaving some scorched bits. Cut into thick slices.

Heat ghee in a skillet over medium heat, stir in the onion, and cook until tender. Mix in eggplant. Add seasonings to taste. (Unless you know you like it spicy, work your way up to more spice as you cook, stopping when you have reached your comfort level.) Continue cooking 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft, somewhat mushed together, and tasty.

(And now that I’ve written today’s post, my husband is craving Indian food. . . .)

This post is support for Step Two in the Year of Self-Care—a series of 26 bi-weekly steps toward better self-care in 2009.  Please share your questions and thoughts in the comments section of each step’s posts.

Previous Posts in the Year of Self-Care

Intro to the Year of Self-Care
Step One: Embrace Gradual Change
Mid-Point Support for Step One
Step Two: Commit to Weekly Grocery Planning

→ 13 CommentsTags: Uncategorized

The Year of Self-Care: Commit to Weekly Grocery Planning

January 14th, 2009 · 26 Comments

Perhaps you are a lucky soul who lives in a time and place where, during your day, each day, you get to take a lovely stroll through stalls or shops selling fresh vegetables, fruits, breads, cheeses, meats, etc.  You carefully inspect each in-season fruit or vegetable to pick out the highest-quality combination of tastes and textures.  You aren’t harried or overly hungry while you’re shopping.  You wind your way home, where you tie on a beautiful apron, take a glorious deep breath of fresh air, and prepare a masterpiece of a meal.

If that is your life, I envy you.  I dream of a time and place where we all have the time, energy, and opportunity to engage in food preparation as you do.  I think we should all aim to adopt more of your habits.  If that is your life, this post is not for you.  This post is for the rest of us.

[Read more →]

→ 26 CommentsTags: 26 changes: the year of self-care · meal planning · New Year's resolution · weight loss

Healthy Meals for One or Two: Kickin’ It Off With Smoothies

January 8th, 2009 · 17 Comments

My friend Chris (whom you can find writing these two blogs) has struggled with eating at home for the two years I’ve known him.  Chris is a successful, intelligent person who is good about determining what he wants and going for it, and one thing he wants to do is cook and eat at home . . . but it’s been difficult for him because Chris is single and lives alone.  Cooking for one can be hard because of the start-up costs (spices, appliances, leftover storage), the learning curve (cooking is often intimidating to those who are new at it), the recipes (which are usually written for 6 or more people), and the desire for social contact when eating.

Nonetheless, learning to cook and eat at home, alone, is an ability that serves us all well.  In the long run, even with the start-up costs and learning curve, eating at home tends to be cheaper, and is definitely healthier, than eating in restaurants. We can view learning to eat at home as making an investment in ourselves.

The loneliness factor, I cannot fix, but I can make three suggestions: if you invite a friend over for a meal, I’ve discovered he or she will rarely say no—in which case, you’ve got a meal for two to plan.  Barring that option, I find I’m less lonely about eating alone if I’m satisfied with having social contact before or after the meal—so joining a low-key sports team with evening practices, going to a 7 p.m. movie after dinner, or calling a friend around the mealtime may help.  And in general, getting comfortable with eating alone is a step towards getting comfortable in our own skin, with our own pleasures and passions to enjoy solely.  And again, even if eating alone isn’t always easy (it wasn’t for me, though I enjoy it on many of the occasions it happens now), it’s worthwhile.

In honor of Chris and others who are working on doing a better job of eating healthy meals at home in 2009, I’m kicking off a new series of posts that are about learning to cook and eat meals for one or two—meals that are generally healthy and include treats now and then.  If you’re cooking for just yourself, yourself and a child, or yourself and a significant other or friend, I hope these recipes—and links to recipes and suggestions at other sites—will help you grow in your confidence and ability to eat at home successfully.

Now on to the first meal: smoothies.

I drank smoothies occasionally as a young adult, but then quit drinking them.  My problem with smoothies has always been that they fill me up well when I drink them, and then I’m hungry about an hour later and ravenous two hours later.  They are generally too high in calories for a snack but too low in longevity for a meal. But smoothies can be a great way to get in servings of fruits or vegetables, and they’re tasty.  When I recently saw some Nutiva organic, fair-trade chocolate hemp powder at the Dekalb Farmer’s Market, even though it wasn’t in my usual vein of purchases because it’s not exactly a whole food, I thought, “Hmmm.  No weird or chemical ingredients.  Protein in a vegetarian form that I’m not allergic to. Fair-trade and organic. I’ll try it!”  I’m glad I did.  With 60 calories, nine grams of fiber, and five grams of protein in a three-tablespoon serving, the hemp powder gives my smoothie the staying power to keep me satisfied till lunchtime. (It does have a bit of sugar in it, but the pure protein powder version doesn’t, if you avoid all sugar.)  My husband and best friend have both tried them for breakfast now, as well, with the same results.  We’re all hemp powder smoothie fans now.

Of course, you want to avoid making breakfast smoothies that are high in sugar and low in nutrients.  Smoothies that primarily consist of, say, frozen sweetened yogurt are a treat, a dessert—not a meal.  Here are a few smoothie recipe suggestions with the hemp protein powder:

Peanut Butter Cup Smoothie w/ Banana

1 cup milk or milk alternative (I used hemp milk)
1 banana (chopped up and frozen the previous evening)
3 or 4 ice cubes
2 tablespoons peanut butter
2 tablespoons chocolate hemp powder

Choco-Berry Smoothie

1 c. hemp milk
2/3 c. frozen berries (I used raspberries and blackberries)
3 T chocolate hemp powder
1 T chocolate chips (will blend into tiny chunks, so use chocolate syrup instead, or skip it, if you want a smooth texture)

Banana Split Smoothie

1 cup milk or milk alternative (I used hemp)
1 banana (sliced and frozen the night before)
1/3 cup pitted cherries (fresh, frozen, or home-canned)
3 T chocolate hemp protein powder
3-4 ice cubes

Tropical Smoothie

1/2 cup milk or milk alternative
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 banana (sliced and frozen the night before)
3 tablespoons chocolate hemp powder
3-4 ice cubes
1 tablespoon coconut

Combine all ingredients in the blender, and blend well.  Add more ice for a thicker smoothie.

Of course, you can avoid the hemp powder and try adding other protein sources to give your smoothie staying power, as well.  The peanut butter in one of the recipes is an example; other nut butters would work, and if you have a great blender, you could just try whole or chopped nuts.  Several people have told me they swear by rice protein powder, and many healthy folks I know make smoothies with greens like kale and spinach for fiber and protein.

Resources:

Ode to Green Smoothie
Green Smoothie Recipes in 140 Characters
Smoothie Nosh
How to Make a Hemp Protein Smoothie

→ 17 CommentsTags: quick meals

Support for the Year of Self-Care: Embracing Gradual Change

January 7th, 2009 · 8 Comments

We’re one week into 2008, and one week into the Year of Self-Care!  How are you feeling? Are you pumped about this year being one where you will grow in your ability to feel more soothed, more fulfilled, and healthier? I know I am.

I’ve struggled lately, emotionally.  About half the time, I feel fine.  The other half, I just don’t. Some difficult life events added to the fall/winter season (S.A.D., anyone?) and the stressors of moving and job-developing and the empathy I feel with so many other people’s struggles—the combination has washed over me so much sometimes lately that I’ve felt that I was drowning.

But I’ve had a toolkit to help me make it through—the self-care that I’ve been learning to administer for these past two years and am continuing to develop still.  In the case of my emotional struggles lately, self-care means several things: I continue to make food that will nurture my body and mind even when I don’t feel like it; I continue my habit of exercise, knowing it will boost me up even when I don’t want to do it; I make myself go to the doctor to get the prescription for the S.A.D. full-spectrum light box (no, you don’t have to have a prescription—but if insurance will pay for 80% of the cost with a prescription, I want a prescription); I remind myself that good times will come again and that I’ve worked through hard times before; I treat myself gently and avoid berating myself for how I wish I didn’t feel; I keep asking myself what I need to feel better, and giving myself permission to use my energy for that, to get myself to a point of better stability.

In the past, I would’ve simply berated myself by saying I was such a crazy, stressed-out, lazy person.  I would’ve treated this depressed state as a prime opportunity to overeat and overspend.  I would’ve overeaten and overspent immensely because the food and purchased items, while not fixing my life’s difficulties or my emotional state, felt good for a moment and at least let me avoid how I was feeling for a while.  I would’ve dropped the exercise and other healthy efforts because I just didn’t feel like them.  And ultimately, I would have made myself more miserable than I had been before. But no more—I take better care of myself than that these days.  It’s not always easy, and I’m certainly not perfect at it, but it’s worthwhile, and I’m working on it every day.

Self-care doesn’t mean your life will always be great, but it does mean that when tough times come, you’ll have developed a stronger sense of self-worth and habits that can be a life raft while you wait for the storm to calm.

In the first step toward self-care—embracing gradual change—I set out a few ground rules in the last post.  Let’s review those now that we’re a week in:

1. Accept where you are.

2. Be gentle with yourself.

3. Trust yourself to take care of yourself.

4.  Decide on some form of measurement, and stick with it.  Take the first measurement, in whatever method you’ve chosen, of your current self-care state and/or health state.

5. Accept opportunity cost.

6. If you’re living with a family, make the obvious changes a family affair.

Over the next week, your task is to review the ground rules and work through your thoughts and emotions about any of them that might be a struggle for you or a particular gift for you. (Which of these will most change your life? Which of these will be hardest to accomplish?)

Next Wednesday brings step two in the Year of Self-Care!

→ 8 CommentsTags: 26 changes: the year of self-care · New Year's resolution · weight loss

Return of the Lost: PF Chang’s-Style Orange Peel Chicken (Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Egg-Free, Soy-Free)

January 6th, 2009 · 12 Comments

The worst cravings are at the beginning.  You find out you have to live with food restrictions, and you can’t figure out what to eat because all you can think about is what you can’t have.  You create mental lists of lamentations in your head over what you’ve lost.  Your stomach feels hollow in a way you can’t quite describe or even understand—even when you’re full. You try making foods with substitutions, but you find the flour choices overwhelming, or you just can’t get out of your head a texture that you are trying to achieve, but can’t.  Even if you aren’t a prepackaged kind of person, you try out premade mixes and processed foods hoping to recreate a favorite.  They may taste good, but they usually don’t taste quite right, and you think, Is this what I’m stuck dealing with for the rest of my life?

It gets better, maybe even faster than you ever thought it could.  Given some time for acceptance and for your taste buds to evolve, you start to forget what you’re missing.  Even forgetting is a bit sad—you’re losing a bit of your history, and part of your cultural connection to so many other people—but it’s also a pleasure to be able to taste foods and enjoy them for what they are instead of focusing on what they aren’t.  You push yourself to be adventurous, to try grains, proteins, vegetables that you’ve never tried before, and you really love some of them—things you never would have tried if it weren’t for life making you. You get more adept at using the alternatives, and start to make tasty food again.  Maybe you learn to like foods you previously couldn’t stand because you think you don’t want any further restrictions than you have to have.

You’re different from others, and being set apart can be lonely (and maybe always will be at times), but you can enjoy what you get, too.  Few things in life have to be black-and-white, and this situation is no exception.

I dreamed a few nights ago that two of my friends had gotten together with my husband, and they had devised a recipe to make the flakiest, butteriest croissants imaginable—with no dairy, no eggs, no soy, and no gluten.  I don’t usually dream of food (I don’t usually have good dreams at all), but in this dream, I remember so clearly now the taste of the croissant, but even more the mouthfeel and texture of that incredible bread.  It’s a bread I can’t imagine being able to make with my food restrictions.  Vegan croissants? I’m sure they can be good.  Gluten-free croissants? Yep, they can be done.  But gluten-free croissants with no eggs, dairy, or soy? If you take out the eggs and dairy, the gluten becomes more important. If you take out the gluten, the dairy and eggs become more important. I don’t, at this point in my journey, see how they’d work. (Wouldn’t I love to be proven wrong!)

So you can imagine, I woke from my dream completely thrilled at the new croissant recipe discovery.  I awoke and immediately sat up, ready to jump out of bed and put the recipe on my blog . . . when I realized that I was in bed: there was no recipe; there was no gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, egg-free croissant.

The sadness I felt mingled with amusement over my dream and pleasure at my brain’s ability to retain, years later, exactly how a good croissant would taste and feel in my mouth.  Who knows? Maybe I will get to have one some day, as I was able to have (chocolate-dipped!) biscotti again when Cheryl so sweetly conjured up a fabulous gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, egg-free version to send me after I had surgery last summer.  When I rediscover what I thought might be lost for good, I don’t take it for granted. The pleasure of having something returned to you that was once lost is sweet indeed.

Thus it was that I decided recently, after two years of craving PF Chang’s Orange Peel Chicken/Tofu/Beef, that I certainly should be able to make a reasonable facsimile of the dish at home. Croissants? Very difficult.  An Asian sauce? Totally doable.

I cobbled together recipes from the internet, subbed out the foods I can’t have, and voila, it actually worked well.  My husband says this recipe tastes just like PF Chang’s Orange Peel Chicken, whereas I think it’s not perfect yet—but it sure did hit the spot in my heart that has held on to that craving for this long.  The sauce recipe is vegan if you sub in tofu for the chicken and tamari for the fish sauce—Orange Peel Tofu was my actual favorite when I could eat it, but I have to make do with chicken now.  Yum either way.

Orange Peel Chicken
Gluten-Free, Soy-Free, Dairy-Free, Egg-Free

(I made the sauce earlier in the day and refrigerated it, covered, till I needed it. You can also just make it at dinner-time.)

Sauce:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (not olive—I used canola; peanut would also work)
4 tablespoons minced garlic
8 green onions, thinly sliced
2 cups tomato sauce (If you want more sauce, use two cups; if you want it to be thicker but have less sauce, use one cup.)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup granulated sugar (I’m sure a sugar alternative would work here)
2-4 tablespoons Sriracha Thai sauce—the red sauce with the rooster on the bottle in the chili sauce section (You can’t leave this out, or it’ll taste Italian; 2 T in the whole dish, and I could barely taste it.  4 T made my nose run a bit with its spiciness. It’s up to you how much you use, but don’t skip it!)
2 tablespoons fish sauce (You can sub in tamari to make it vegan if you want; fish sauce, if you’ve never used it, will NOT make your food fishy-tasting, and it’s great in Asian dishes of all kinds)
2 teaspoons molasses
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar, preferably aged balsamic
1/2 teaspoon salt (if desired)

Chicken:
1/2 cup oil (again, not olive)
4 boneless, skinless, free-range chicken breasts or 6 boneless, skinless thighs, chopped into 1″ pieces
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup sweet rice flour
peel from one orange, julienned into 1/8″ wide/1/2″ long strips (okay to leave the white pith on it; I love the orange peel and might use two oranges next time!)

For sauce:
Heat oil on medium.  Add garlic and green onions. Cook one minute; then add tomato sauce and water.  Add the rest of the sauce ingredients, and bring to a boil.  Simmer 5-6 minutes, or until sauce thickens.  Turn off stove.

For chicken:

Heat oil on medium-high heat in a frying pan (preferably non-stick).  While oil is heating, dredge chicken pieces in a mixture of the cornstarch and flour.  Put the chicken pieces in the pan, making sure they all have a bit of space around them. (You may need to do two batches.) Fry the chicken pieces about 2 minutes; then flip the pieces, and fry two more minutes.  Put the chicken on a plate covered with paper towels or paper to drain the grease.  Cook the next batch, if there is one.

Dispose of the oil in the pan.  Scrape out any large bits of breading in the pan.  Put the pan back on the stove.  Put the chicken and julienned orange peel back in the hot pan.  Stir gently for 30 seconds. Add sauce to the pan.  Stir together until heated through.

Serve over brown rice, with additional Sriracha for those who like foods spicy.  My favorite side dishes to combine with this are steamed garlic snap peas and sauteed carrots.

→ 12 CommentsTags: allergen-free recipes

Looking for a Good Sports Bra?

January 6th, 2009 · 7 Comments

This is the time of year when people tend to be fired up about their resolutions to get healthier.  One impediment in the past, for me, was that I never seemed to be able to find a sports bra that actually held these suckers in well enough for major motion.  Then I found the Enell sports bra.  When I found it, I had just started wearing bras in the proper size—-which is to say, very expensive bras primarily from Nordstrom.  I was new enough in this fit-is-important-enough-for-you-to-just-buy-the-damn-thing that I found the $60 or so price tag of the Enell bra painful.  But I bought one to try anyway, and I have never looked back.  My body is worth it; my ability and comfort during exercise are worth it.  The Enell bras work (I’m a 34G, yes, ABCDEFG, and I can run in this bra with no problem), they look okay, they have to be snug but aren’t painful, and they last a long time. (Also, because the bras work for a range of sizes, I haven’t had to get smaller ones as my ribcage has shrunk.)

I’m not a spokesperson for Enell, but maybe I should be! For larger breasted women, I’m an Enell evangelist.

If you’re interested, I’ve bought my previous ones from Two Roads Fitness, an online women’s exercise store.  Patty, who runs it, has always shipped me my bras very promptly, and she is having a sale right now on the Enell bras (and all the other ones, though I can’t speak for those).  She’s out of the size 2 bras today (I know, ’cause I emailed her about them), but she’s getting more in later this week.  $47 for an Enell bra is a steal. (You can see them for sale at Amazon for $60.)

→ 7 CommentsTags: running just as fast as we can

Thank You, Thieves

January 2nd, 2009 · 15 Comments

I’m trying to look on the bright side of the theft of my belongings that occurred as we moved.  The brown pair of dress shoes they stole had gotten a bit too big as my feet have shrunk from weight loss.  Now I get to replace them with a comfy, new pair that fits just right.

(Note the low heels on the shoes.  I wrote a post a while back about why I gave up high heels for good.)

For my other pair of replacement shoes, I’m considering splurging on a pair of boots.  Earlier in my life, every pair of boots I ever tried on was too tight in the calves.  I even once ordered a ‘wide calves’ pair that was too narrow! (I’m not complaining about my legs; I think I have shapely gams.) Now that I’ve lost most of the weight I’ll lose, I tried on a few pairs of boots when I was at an outlet mall, and all but one pair fit my calves.  I didn’t buy any that day because I was not spending money I didn’t need to spend . . . but now that over half the cost of the boots will be paid by my insurance, why not?

My friend Thomas S. always has fun or funny shirts.  They aren’t the sarcastic kinds of shirts—those really don’t do anything for me.  They’re usually just clever in some way or bring up nostalgia.  (I often don’t even recognize what they’re about, but my husband does.) I need to replace several knit shirts and t-shirts that were stolen. On a whim, I asked my husband to stop at Junkman’s Daughter in Atlanta to see if there were any trendy shirts there that I liked. I discovered I’ve outgrown most of what they carry, but I did love a couple of the t-shirts.  So I bought them!

Where the Wild Things Are is one of the greatest children’s books evuh.

I actually hate most puns, but I love the bunny shirt anyway.  And fitted t-shirts–yay!

I’m trying to be careful about replacing things—not just replacing them just to spend money (that’s about as healthy as binge-eating, for me), but because I actually need or really want the replacement items.  Unfortunately, the theft occurred after I’d pared down my belongings to include only what I was sure I wanted to keep, so that means I do have a decent number of things to replace.

So . . . boo on losing things, but yay for the getting the pleasure of picking out good new ones.

→ 15 CommentsTags: Uncategorized

Fruit for Dessert: Heavenly Ambrosia (Dairy-Free, Soy-Free, Vegan)

January 1st, 2009 · 12 Comments

I just ate a little bowl of ambrosia while I was sitting in a steamy hot bath.  It was decadent.

Between Halloween and Christmas, my husband and I took part in the dessert slide of doom.  You may know what I’m talking about—a slippery slope from dessert as an occasional treat to dessert nearly every day to dessert every day to dessert plus a little piece of something sweet earlier every day.  At that point, eating sweet things, craving sweet things, is reflexive, not even very enjoyable. (It’s easy to do if you’re baking a lot for the holidays—a cookie here, a pinch of cake there. . . .)  Ouch—it’s not healthy to be eating all that sugar, fat, and processed flour.  By last weekend, when we unpacked our scale, I’d gained three pounds, which was a sign it was time to nip it in the bud and get back to healthier eating.

So Saturday, December 27th, we packed up our leftover Christmas candy and put it in an unused freezer at someone else’s house.  We committed to eating a non-fruit-based dessert only once a week for a while. I spent some time researching fruit-based desserts on Sunday, and while many of the ones I found were far too reliant on sugar and flour (and eggs and dairy that I can’t eat, of course), I did find a few good, simple ideas that were in line with what I was thinking—like broiled grapefruit with raspberry jam on it and baked apples with toasted nuts and a touch of brown sugar.  Of course, plain, fresh fruit—by itself—can be the satisfying little sweet thing I need, especially fruit that’s in season and locally grown. (The apples from our CSA? Crispy, crunchy, sweet, and heavenly.)  And I thoroughly enjoy sulfur-free, organic dried fruit, especially dried figs, dried plums/prunes, and dried apricot slices.  A couple of bites of any of those treats, and as long as I’m not expecting a chocolate cookie and I’m keeping my eye on my long-term self-care, I’m satisfied. (It also helps that I’m making Karina’s recently posted vegan Mexican Chocolate Cake for our holiday celebration with my husband’s parents tomorrow night.  By not loading up on chocolate all week, I’m terrifically looking forward to a few bites of that cake. And I’d rather have that as my dessert treat this week than anything sitting around here!)

Since we were eating at home for New Year’s Eve before going to the symphony, I wanted to make a special fruit-based dessert for us to have with our celebratory meal.  I settled on developing a truly heavenly version of ambrosia—if it’s going to be called the food of the gods, it better be something special.

Heavenly Ambrosia
Dairy-Free, Soy-Free, Egg-Free, Gluten-Free, Vegan)
Serves 6-10 with 1/3- to 1/2-cup servings

When I put a bite of marshmallow and nut with whipped coconut cream in my mouth today, I closed my eyes and thought, “It tastes like a sweet little cloud”—a great foil for the sourness in the citrus fruit.

Note: You have to refrigerate your can of coconut cream for at least six hours, so make sure you do that in advance.

2-3 clementine oranges, peeled and sliced into small segments
2 blood oranges, peeled and sliced into small segments
2 c. vanilla marshmallows—either use miniature or chop into small pieces with a sharp knife
~1.5 cups fresh (only fresh!) pineapple, chopped into half-bite pieces
1 c. grated coconut, sweetened or unsweetened according to your palate
1 c. roasted, salted pecan pieces
1/2 c. seedless grapes

Cream from one well-chilled can of coconut milk (don’t use light)—see directions
1-2 T. sugar (unnecessary if you use sweetened coconut and coconut milk yogurt—the yogurt is sweet)
6 oz. (one container) of plain or vanilla coconut milk yogurt (or another kind of yogurt)

1/2 c. grated coconut for topping (optional)

Refrigerate the can of coconut milk for at least six hours. (I like to leave one in the fridge at all times for when I decide to make a recipe with whipped coconut cream.)

Put a metal mixing bowl and your beaters in the freezer to chill for at least 20 minutes.

Prep the fruit and marshmallows.  Combine the fruit, nuts, marshmallows, and grated coconut in a large bowl, and place the bowl in the refrigerator.

Remove your mixer pieces from the freezer, and put your mixer together. Open one can of coconut milk.  Scoop out the thick layer of coconut cream that’s formed in the top half of the jar, and put it in your mixer. (Discard the remaining coconut water, or reserve it for another use.)  Add sugar to the mixer, if using.  Whip at high speed until the cream is light and fluffy—if your mixer is cold and your cream is cold, you should be able to form soft peaks.  Add the coconut milk yogurt, and whip for 15 seconds more.

Gently fold the whipped coconut cream mixture into the bowl of fruit.  Refrigerate two or more hours before serving.

If desired:  to top the dessert in individual bowls, toast 1/2 c. shredded coconut in a skillet on medium-low heat until most of it has turned light brown. Sprinkle a tablespoon of toasted coconut on each serving.

→ 12 CommentsTags: dessert · vegetarian · winter