Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What's Going On In My Kitchen

Picture courtesy of Matteas. I think he needs his own camera for Christmas.
A huge bowl of sweet potatoes. I made way too much filling.
Sage, thyme and butter.
Picture courtesy of Anna, who also did my dishes several times in between helping me roll pasta. She also brought me coffee that was like Christmas morning in a cup.
Brine for the turkey.
Cranberries for the turkey.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like...

...Christmas. I can't help myself, I love everything about Christmas. It's not even Thanksgiving and I already have Christmas-scented candles and lights up. I hate how stores put out Christmas stuff right after Halloween(even before Halloween this year), but I feel like making my home ready for Christmas is the opposite of what the stores are doing. I did some shopping today and while I succeeded in finding some great stocking stuffers for Aaron, I've decided the rest of my shopping will be done on my sewing machine or online. I've already ordered several things for the boys from Moolka, a company I found through Amazon. It's so great to find things I like and then have them show up at my front door. I am venturing out to shop one more time, but only because Rachel and I are starting a tradition. Last year we went to Holidate with the Girls and had a great time even though I signed us up too late to get a Swag Bag and I was depressed about it all night because I just knew there was lip gloss in there, and who doesn't love free lip gloss? Okay, so it's not exactly free, but it's in exchange for donating money to a really good cause. That was the night we discovered that Sonrisa has delicious cocktails. The Cosmorita is especially good, and the food is fresh and flavorful. If you need to get some shopping done in beautiful University Village, have a cocktail and appetizers after shopping courtesy of Sonrisa, donate money to Ronald McDonald House and get a goody bag and a VIP shopping pass, you should sign up.
On my way to bed the other night I noticed the Christmas lights reflecting in the wine glasses; I really appreciate little glimpses of loveliness. My day is always so much better when I take the time to notice or create something pretty. One of my favorite ways to bring a little loveliness into the ordinary moments is to use good soap. I will pay way too much money for soap if it makes me slow down, breathe deeply, and shift my focus. Plus this soap smells like Christmas magic. I also bought the matching dish soap. The situation in my kitchen is about to get totally out of control. Stay tuned...

Friday, November 20, 2009

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Breathing In

This week has been so lovely. I'm not sure what it is(though I have a strong feeling it's closely related to how independent both of the boys are now) but this past week has been positively joyful. Aaron and I had a couple of really fun dates over the weekend, Core Fusion continues to rock my world(which I promise to actually post about soon), I burst out of my cooking rut and have covered myself in squash and chocolate glory(cookie recipe is almost perfect), and today I put up Christmas lights in the kitchen. I put tacks up all around the perimeter and strung white lights up around the entire kitchen, during which Matteas nearly had a heart attack he was trembling with so much joy. After Jack came home from school and saw the lights, he noticed how pretty the reflection was from the kitchen light fixture. I love that he notices things like that, and that he has a mom who cherishes his observations. Adding to the loveliness is the fact that it's time for flannel. I learned very quickly that Aaron is kind of a violent sleeper. No matter how carefully I made the bed, we'd wake up every morning with the flat sheet squished down at the bottom of the bed, on the floor, tangled around Aaron's legs, or even(one time) in the closet. I'm not sure what exactly about a flat sheet offends Aaron so, but they don't get along. It makes buying sheet sets feel a little wasteful since we'd only ever use half of them, but I found a way to restore all our cast-off flat sheets to a place of honor. I took the flat sheet from two different flannel sets and sewed them into a duvet, and now we pretty much have the coziest bed ever. Which is nice, because right now I feel like I pretty much have the coziest life ever. I'm attributing my current joy binge to several things: the weather(Aaron and I both love rain), good food, independent boys, regular exercise, good sleep, and having time for hobbies. A few moms at our church had babies recently, and while I'm sure the new additions are bringing their families a lot of love I can't help but appreciate that I'm getting a break right now. I know I've written a lot about how hard the first year with Jack was, and just as it was starting to get easier I found out I got to do it all over again. Thankfully it wasn't quite the same. Jack is an amazing kid now, but he was a very challenging baby. Everyone kept telling me that things would change, that they'd get better, that the next baby would be different. They were right. But what I also know is, the really great place I feel like I'm in right now will change too. Someday I'll be pregnant again, someday I'll have a newborn and a postpartum body and not enough sleep and I'll remember this lovely week in November and it will give me hope. I honestly never imagined married life as being quite this good. I loved Aaron and I wanted to be with him, and back when I was single I was even pretty sure I wanted to have babies with him, but man it was hard. Especially the way we did it, having a dysfunctional relationship and then fast-tracking our wedding so we could be married all of four weeks before having a baby. It all worked out, but I certainly wouldn't recommend it if you're in a position to plan that sort of thing. I did a lot of grieving the first year of our marriage. I grieved for the "perfect" wedding day I would never have, for the brilliant career I would never pursue, for the chance to announce my first pregnancy with joy instead of fear, for the pre-pregnancy body that seemed impossible to get back no matter how many miles I ran. It felt like I was a stranger in my own life; nothing was familiar or comforting. I'm not sure what I would have done without my sister Briana. I spent every single day of that first summer at her house, numb with sleep deprivation, crazy with hormones, waiting for my body and my life to feel normal. She fed me, caffeinated me, sat patiently with me whenever I periodically burst into tears for no obvious reason. She understood. She knew where I was, and she knew I would come out of it. Now I know it too. I also know how important it is to get a chance to catch my breath, to have enough of my needs met that I feel like I have something to give others, to have the capacity to notice and appreciate the way the light fixture reflects the Christmas lights. When Aaron came home tonight I was just starting dinner. The boys heard his truck pull in the driveway and they screeched for joy and ran to find hiding places(they hide from him every night in painfully obvious places). Matteas got impatient and decided to meet Aaron in the entryway, holding his hands up over his head in welcome. Aaron reached out his hands for Matteas to hold, and they did a little dance by the front door. When Matteas had sufficiently expressed his satisfaction about his father's homecoming, the dance ended and Aaron carried him up the stairs. There were hugs and kisses all around, then Aaron opened some wine and put a glass by my cutting board. He put on some Louis Armstrong and took the boys into the living room while I made dinner, during which I wore a ridiculously cute apron(thank you Rachel). I don't always wear an apron when I cook, but tonight I did because I'd been wearing a white sweater all day, the soft low-necked kind I used to fantasize about wearing on dates with Aaron. I never actually wore my fantasy sweater on a date with Aaron because 1) we dated in the summer and 2) I was pregnant by fall and too concerned with how I was going to salvage my life to think about things like sweaters. The upside to having a sucky dating history is that now I get to date my husband and I know how much to appreciate it. Our dates are based on a relationship we already have, not trying to impress each other. He will tell me if I have something stuck in my teeth, he will encourage me to order dessert, he will kiss me goodnight for certain and he will like me best. We want more babies, someday. Someday when I feel like my body is strong enough and the boys are old enough and my heart is full enough and I'm ready for that great, big, long exhale of pregnancy and labor and infancy, for the great need to move energy out. But for now, I'm so enjoying the space to breathe in.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Foods I've Been Obsessing Over

Italian pink garlic. A few weeks ago, Aaron and I succumbed to the charms of a container of pre-peeled garlic from Costco. I'd always objected before; something about it kind of creeped me out. Being fall, I've been making lots of soup, and therefore using lots of garlic. I hate peeling garlic. I like it when the skin comes off nicely in one satisfying piece, but that so rarely happens and I usually end up picking little tiny shards of impossible-to-grip paper off the clove. So we tried the Costco stuff, and for a while it was pretty groovy. I didn't immediately notice any off-flavors in anything, and the convenience factor was pretty great. Then the garlic on the bottom of the container started molding, so I threw it out and bought some fresh garlic. The minute I cracked a clove I swore I'd never complain about peeling garlic again. While that probably isn't true, I will definitely never buy pre-peeled garlic again. Fresh garlic, and this Italian pink garlic from PCC in particular, has a much more complex aroma and taste than the pre-peeled stuff. The switch really made the differences clear. The peeled stuff smelled and tasted like garlic, but in a very one-note way, almost like bad garlic breath. The fresh garlic smelled, well, fresh, earthy, spicy, sweet and sharp, just so so fragrant and lovely. Anna introduced me to this fig spread, and I can't stop eating it. It's fantastic on crackers with blue cheese or goat cheese or mascarpone cheese, any kind of cheese that has a sharp bite to it. I love fresh figs, but when they're out of season or you want a richer figgy flavor, this spread is it. It takes the mild creaminess of fresh figs and makes it all fancy and mellow and a lot richer, deeply sweet like brown sugar or maple syrup, but not too sugary. Lately I've been eating it with plain yogurt, and for once I prefer low-gat yogurt to whole milk. The whole milk yogurt is too mellow and doesn't provide enough tang as a counterpoint to the darkness of the fig spread. Still, somehow I managed to power through an entire quart of whole milk yogurt and am making rapid progress on the container of the low-fat stuff. Squash. It's becoming a sickness, almost. I can't seem to make it out of the grocery store without at least one kind of squash in my cart, usually acorn or butternut. The little striped ones are the last of the delicata from our garden, the butternut is fresh from PCC. I find something different to love about each kind of squash and keep finding new ways to serve it; roasted with chicken and cranberries, cut into thin strips and made into 'fries,' cut in half and stuffed with quinoa and sausage, simply steamed and served with butter and brown sugar and once by accident goat cheese, which was delicious. That big beautiful butternut may well find its way into a soup this very night, as I have some creme fraiche in my fridge and few things in this life are lovelier than squash soup with creme fraiche. All this obsessing over my food sometimes leaves little time for other things, like cleaning. I hate, hate cooking in a dirty kitchen and always prepare my work space before cooking, but after cooking my kitchen often looks like this. We had company last night and I opted to visit after dinner rather than do the dishes. Jack has school today, so the kitchen will be my afternoon project. Plus I need to make a batch of chocolate chocolate-chip cookies to test a recipe I'm working on and I need at least one clean counter top.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Chasing the Light

Matteas feels the need to investigate every smallest puddle he sees, just in case there are "fishies" in it.
We got out in the sunshine yesterday right before the crazy storm hit. Every Fall I remind myself that anytime there's sun we need to drop whatever we're doing and get out in it because you never know what the weather will do tomorrow; yesterday reinforced that resolution beautifully. I thought I could feel the temperature dropping as we walked, but decided it must be my imagination.
It wasn't. Twenty minutes after we came inside it started raining, which quickly turned into hail the size of marbles. Lots of it. Jack actually expressed concern about the roof cracking. I promised him it wouldn't, lit some candles and put on the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack. I know it's early, but I feel like I never get enough of it and it was so cozy with the crazy hail. Jack is outside right now searching for the biggest chunks of hail and eating them. Matteas was with him for about fifteen minutes, but after sitting in a puddle he decided Mama's lap was a much better place to be. Jack's hands are finally big enough to wear mittens and gloves comfortably, but poor Matteas looked like an awkward snowman when I tried to stuff his hands into his puffy blue pillows with thumbs. I'm thinking of trying to make him a tiny pair of gloves out of some warm stretchy fabric; they wouldn't be waterproof but I feel like they'd be better than nothing. Anyone know where I can get gloves that would actually fit a tiny pair of toddler hands?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thoughts on Veterans Day

On our drive to the beach, we passed row upon row of American flags. I asked Jack if he knew what today was, why he got to stay home from school. I explained that today is Veterans Day, and asked if he knew what that meant. I said that a veteran was someone who had been an American soldier. I said that in some parts of the world, people aren't free to make their own choices the way we can; we can go to whatever church we want to, Jack can go to school wherever we think is best, we have beautiful parks and beaches to play in, Dad has a good job, Mom and Dad both went to college, we have policemen and firemen to protect us. I explained that some people in other parts of the world don't have those things, and that we have them because thousands of American soldiers have fought to keep those things for us. I told him that he even knows a few veterans. He thought for a minute, then shouted "Ryan!" I said yes, and that both of his Grandpas are also veterans and Mom's cousin Michael.
On Veteran's Day, we enjoyed the freedom to chase birds on the beach.
We got beach debris stuck in our boogers, which we thought was pretty funny.
For a while, it got funnier.
And for a brief minute, it stopped being quite so funny. Maybe it was even sad.
But we recovered our sense of humor. Then we cleaned our face.
We even watched a baby seal nap in the sunshine. He was so quiet we didn't realize he was there, but once we spotted him I quickly snapped a few pictures and then we moved down the beach to give him some space. I showed Jack but thought it best not to point him out to Matteas, who tends to have no fear of animals and also a desire to bring them home with us. We didn't do anything particularly patriotic on Veterans Day, we pretty much just acted like normal Americans. The older I get the more I realize what a privilege that is. I'm so grateful that my children have the luxury of a "normal" childhood, that they've never worried about where they will get food or medicine, that they've never been racially or religiously persecuted, that they have the innocence and the opportunity to spend an afternoon at the beach collecting treasures.

I Do Still Have Children

It's funny how things develop without deliberate intention sometimes. For example, when I started my blog I never intended for it to become completely overrun by food. I thought I'd post things about family life, pictures of my kids, the occasional recipe. Imagine my surprise when a total stranger saw the pictures from my NY trip and asked if I wrote a food blog. Huh. Things do seem to have shifted a bit, and I'm sure the grandparents are wondering what, exactly, their grandkids have been up to while all this lamb and vinaigrette have been underway. I'm not sure what direction this blog will ultimately take, if I should focus exclusively on food or keep things more general; food is always going to be a passion and will no doubt continue showing up here, but without my family I'd have no real reason to cook. Well, I'm sure I'd still cook, but it wouldn't be as much fun. I've also been thinking about the title of my blog. My original title was "Domestic Paradise," which I chose based on where I felt I was in my life at the time. Jack was old enough that he was becoming less and less a baby and more and more a buddy I could hang out with, our house in Brier was really beginning to feel like home and I was enjoying making things cozy. Then I got pregnant. I panicked. I felt like I was finally getting on top of things after Jack and I didn't really ready to go through it all again, this time with a toddler in tow. Then I miscarried. Then I got pregnant again. "Domestic Paradise" didn't seem right. "Domestic Turmoil" was more accurate, but not very catchy. "Body of Work" popped into my head and I liked it because it conveyed both a sense of effort but also a sense of artistry, more of an "in progress" feel than a finished product. I still like it, but with all the food running around here it doesn't seem to tie in to the actual content of my blog. I thought about starting a separate blog, one about family stuff and one about food, but I know myself well enough to know that I will only update one of them. Then I thought about re-naming my blog, but nothing seems to really fit. Suggestions? As the holidays approach, the cooking around here is only going to get more out of control. To balance things a little I signed up for a holiday traditions exchange(which does involve a recipe, but only in part) so I can focus a little more on creating, but I feel like I can't really focus on crafty stuff until our bedroom is finished and our current bedroom can become my studio. It's really hard to keep the boys out of my fabric/thread/yarn/paints/canvases, and I'm really excited about designating a specific space for the storage and use of all those things. In the meantime, below is a picture of Jack's self-portrait from school. While this year's portrait enjoyed the addition of a functioning penis, we did celebrate a small success with regard to the number of butts featured; that circle with the line down the center on Jack's chest is his butt. It was the only way he could figure out how to draw a head-on portrait and still work his butt in. Last year's portrait had three butts.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Last Night's Dinner

I've never been a big fan of lamb, but I've always wanted to like it. What I'm figuring out is that I might not enjoy the taste of lamb straight up, but with the right spices and flavors it can be pretty delicious. It has such a rich, meaty flavor which, if allowed to run amok can result in something that tastes like it's been hanging out in a sweaty coal-miner's armpit for three days. Tantalizing, no? However, if you can rein in that lamb funk and tame it into submission, the result is a deeply-flavored, soul-satisfying meaty feast. It's worth the trouble. First, I chopped up a lot of fresh herbs and threw them on a plate with plenty of fresh garlic, salt and pepper. I rolled the lamb shanks in the mixture, then seared them off in hot olive oil and butter. When they were brown on all sides, I added a thinly sliced yellow onion to the pot, then some more garlic, diced tomatoes, white wine, red wine, and vermouth. I let it simmer on the stove for about 45 minutes, then tossed the whole pan in the oven for an hour and a half. When the lamb had about 40 minutes left in the oven, I threw in a pan of onions, carrots and parsnips. I used the 40 minutes to make polenta on the stove, and when it was all done I made everything cozy in a nice bowl and covered everyone with fresh parsley and lots of parmesan. The whole house smelled amazing, like Thanksgiving dinner had gone to Greece and Italy and gotten a sexy makeover(not that there's anything wrong with Thanksgiving dinner, I'm just saying). I liked it, but I feel like there was a spice missing. Aaron and Tristan said no and Trevor licked the pot clean, but I'd like to make it again and add some coriander and- I know this sounds crazy- nutmeg. People tend to associate nutmeg with sweet things like pumpkin pie, but I've used it with meat before and it gives a delicious-yet-subtle flavor; it doesn't taste sweet at all, just gives the meat a nice warmth and a little lift on the aftertaste. It cleans it up somehow while still keeping it savory. Drunken Lamb Shanks Serves 4 For the lamb: 3-4 lamb shanks, trimmed of fat and white covering(I used 3 large shanks and it fed 4) 1 TBS chopped fresh rosemary 1TBS chopped fresh oregano 1 TBS chopped fresh thyme 2 cloves garlic, crushed or minced 1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper 1 can plain(no herbs) diced tomatoes, drained 3/4 cup white wine 3/4 cupred wine 1/4 cup vermouth salt and pepper Place herbs, garlic, salt and pepper on a plate and toss together with a fork. Roll trimmed lamb shanks in mixture, pressing the herbs into the meat to coat generously. Heat a deep, oven-proof pot on medium-high and add 2 TBS of olive oil and 1 TBS of butter. When the oil and butter are hot, sear the lamb shanks to brown on all sides. Lay them in the hot oil/butter and DO NOT MOVE THEM FOR 1 WHOLE MINUTE before turning. You won't brown them if you move them around, you have to let them wallow in the hot fat. The only time you should touch them is when they're ready to be turned, at which point touch them only enough to turn them over and then leave them alone again. Browning meat likes its space. When the lamb is browned on all sides(which should take 4-5 minutes) add the onion. Let the onion cook with the lamb for 3-5 minutes, until the onion begins to soften. The thinner you slice the onion, the sooner this will happen. When the onions are soft, add 2 cloves crushed garlic. Stir in the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds. Then add the tomatoes, white and red wine, and the vermouth. Feel free to experiment with different wines, use all red or all white, skip the vermouth, add extra, use stock instead of want to end up with roughly 2 cups of liquid in your pot. Season with salt and pepper. Put a lid on the pot and lower the heat to a gentle simmer. Simmer 45 minutes, turning and basting the shanks with the broth every ten minutes so any exposed meat doesn't dry out. After 45 minutes, cover the pot with foil(use oven mits) and place in preheated 350-degree oven for an hour. After an hour remove the foil, spoon more broth over the shanks and place back in over for additional 40 minutes. If you are roasting any vegetables, put them in the oven(in their own dish) at this point. Use anything you like, but carrots were especially tasty with the lamb. My picture shows the onions whole, but I'd quarter them for faster, uniform cooking. Toss vegetables with salt, pepper and olive oil. Creamy Polenta Polenta is a delicious whole-grain starch that is often overlooked but is very easy to make and can be used as a base much the same way you would use mashed potatoes, pasta or rice. Polenta is just a fancy name for cornmeal. You can use fine or coarse; finer cornmeal will yield a smoother texture, but I like the rustic feel of the coarse. You can find it in the bulk foods section, or just buy a box of yellow cornmeal in the baking aisle. If using boxed, make sure it is plain cornmeal and not cornbread mix; this will have other ingredients in it(like baking soda) that you don't want in your polenta. You can use stock, water, or a mixture of white wine and water to cook your polenta. I used all chicken stock. If using wine, use only 1 cup white wine and the other 3 cups water or stock or the flavor will be too strong. 1/2 yellow onion, diced 1 clove garlic, minced or crushed 1 1/3 cups white or yellow cornmeal 4 cups stock or water 1/2 cup grated Parmesan In a sauce pan or high-rimmed skillet, cook the onion until soft with a little olive oil and butter. When the onion is soft, add the garlic, cook for 30 seconds, then add the cornmeal all at once. Stir to combine. Add the stock or whatever liquid you're using. You can add it all at once or a little at a time, like a risotto. Either way, stir every few minutes to avoid lumps until the cornmeal is tender, 20-30 minutes. Remove from heat. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in grated Parmesan. To serve, spoon a bed of polenta onto a plate or wide, shallow salad bowl. Place a lamb shank on top, put some roasted vegetables next to the polenta and lamb, then ladle broth from the lamb on top. Sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley and grated Parmesan. Garnish with a sprig of fresh rosemary. This is the sort of meal that will make a man love you, so be careful who you serve it to. Or at least be prepared.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Yet Another Reason Why I Love My Husband

Aaron: What's for dinner? Me: Braised lamb shanks and roasted vegetables. Aaron: Are you using a recipe? Me: Not really, I thought I'd just kind of make it up as I went along. Aaron: I love you.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

You Are a Professional

Good food.
More good food.
I received a lovely and heartwarming e-mail from Kirianna yesterday, a reader from New Zealand who never leaves comments :) Seriously, you can leave me comments. I'd rather have this blog be more of a conversation and without comments it's just me standing on my soapbox. Don't get me wrong, I like it up here on my soapbox, but company is good too. Anyway, back to Kirianna's e-mail. She said she felt affirmed by my Mindful Eating post, and that she sometimes feels like the only person who thinks about food the way she does. Her e-mail, plus countless conversations I've had with Kayleigh, has inspired me to write this post addressing something I feel really passionate about: the American concept of "professionals." My mother is something of a renegade. She has a habit of reading a book about something and then doing it, like reupholstering furniture and having a baby at home. There is very little, if anything, that intimidates my mother. She doesn't have a degree to match every field in which she has become an expert, and she doesn't need one. I've always been profoundly grateful to my mother for having this quality, and for passing it on to me. Because of her example and experience, I had the courage have my first baby without any drugs. I remember lying in the hospital bed and the OB asking me what my plan for pain management was. Already halfway through labor, I replied "I'm just going to do it." Fogassy women would make good poster children for Nike: we just do it. There are times in life when you absolutely must defer to the knowledge and expertise of someone who knows more than you; for instance, if you need brain surgery. But a lot of the time your own judgment is your strongest resource. It puzzles me, considering our country's defiant beginnings, that as a society we have become so dependent on the qualifications of others. While it's important to recognize your limits and ask for help when you really need it, so often we sell ourselves short when it comes to our own capabilities. I could write a book about the evils of self-doubt and how many it robs of how much, but for now I want to address it as it relates to food(big shock, I know). Michael Pollan writes extensively on the subject of how paradoxical it is that a nation as unhealthy as America is seemingly so obsessed with healthy eating. If you want a good, approachable overview of our current food system and the effects it's having on our health, I'd highly recommend his book In Defense of Food, the subtitle of which is "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." It's good advice. For those who don't want to invest the time it takes to read an entire book, I propose a condensed version of Michael Pollan's common sense approach. Think about a food, any food, and the process it goes through to get from origin to grocery store. For most foods, there are way too many steps involved beginning with the genetic modification of the seeds for fruits and vegetables, the chemicals used in growing those fruits and vegetables, chemicals used to preserve and increase the shelf-life of fruits and's a daunting list. The process of how meat is raised and brought to market is even more complicated and disheartening. Michael Pollan points out that the way American food research works is inherently flawed. This is because of what he calls the "single nutrient" approach. In science it is often helpful and necessary to reduce the number of variables in a given experiment. Where food is concerned, this often ends up being a useless approach. For example, beta carotene. Michael discusses research based on observing how beta carotene is utilized in the body by subjects who either consumed it within a carrot, or took it in supplement form and did not eat carrots. The subjects who ate whole carrots were much more efficient at using beta carotene to its fullest advantage than those who merely took a supplement. This is true of ALL nutrients; science has yet to provide a superior source of nutrition than that provided by Nature. Pollan suggests that this may be because of non-nutrient substances found in whole foods that research has failed to identify, substances that may assist in the body's absorption of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. Either way, it doesn't take a genius to realize that a carrot tastes better than a pill. Likewise, you don't have to be a doctor, chef or nutritionist to make healthy food choices. Simply put, try to choose foods that haven't been messed with. Animals that haven't been given drugs; fruits and vegetables that haven't been genetically modified; eggs from chickens who ate grass and bugs, beef from cows who grazed on grass and not corn. What all the research points to is that food is best the way Nature makes it. The good news is, you don't even have to know all the research to benefit from it, you just have to have common sense and a little bit of awareness in the supermarket. If you're interested in further reading, I highly recommend the following books. Unlike this post, they were extensively researched and are professionally cited. And just so I don't get myself into trouble, I feel compelled to state that I am not a professional nutritionist nor do I have a degree which would qualify me to advise anyone on what or how to eat. I just really love food. Good food. In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Joyful Sorrow

Every October, I dread the beginning of November. Today is November 5th, marking the three year anniversary of my brother Karoly's death. Tomorrow is his birthday. I will never forget the horrible feeling of unreality, the desperate desire to wake up and have it all have been a bad dream. It was an eerie day, the weather much like to day, and I'd gone for a walk through our back woods which took me through a cemetery. I had no idea that a week later I'd be in a cemetery again, this time to bury my brother. Damien was living with us at the time, and I remember how white his face was when he hung up his phone and told me we needed to go see Karoly. I said okay, and asked what was going on. "That was his neighbor; there was a gunshot." We were told there was an ambulance, and that if he was still alive he'd be taken to Valley Medical Center, the hospital where our brother Kevin had been born sixteen years earlier. It took forever to drive from Brier to Renton, and the dark and the rain didn't help either. I called our parents on the way down, and by the time we got to the hospital half the family was there. The ER was busy that night, so we paced outside near the ambulance bay waiting for our brother to arrive, hoping his aim had been off, hoping for a miracle. Each minute that ticked by was like a nail in his coffin. After a while, we realized too much time had passed. If he had been alive, the ambulance would have brought him by now. They don't bring dead people to the ER. That dark November night I felt so raw and so despairing I didn't think I could ever be whole again. Karoly was supposed to come up to my house for his birthday dinner that night, and instead he was ripped from my life forever. I still miss him every single day, but not with the kind of grief that consumed me in those first days and weeks. Slowly at first, Joy made its way back into my life. If felt disrespectful at first, to laugh or to enjoy anything, but life really does go on. What really made me sad is that Karoly always had such a hard time feeling joy; he felt like he didn't deserve it. The only time I ever really saw him express joy in a free, unreserved way was towards his children. Something inside Karoly was different; our parents loved him as much as they loved me, but somehow I grew up happy and he grew up sad. Since having children, I've come to believe that if you don't know joy, you don't know God. I believe Karoly knows true joy now, that he sees himself as God sees him and not through his own distorted vision, that he knows how much he is loved and how precious he is. Somehow that message never got through while he was on this side of eternity. I have learned, slowly, that I have an enormous capacity both for joy and for sorrow, and that the one doesn't necessarily cancel out the other. They'd better not, because they overlap an awful lot. I miss my brother, but I love my husband and our boys. I wish Karoly was still here, but he isn't and the only productive thing to do is embrace those who still are, and in spite of sorrow, to choose joy. I saw this video this morning, courtesy of Lecia. I gave myself permission to cry for my brother for a few minutes, then I put on the video, cranked up the volume and danced in the living room with my boys. I think Karoly would approve. Make me a channel of your peace Where there's despair in life, let me bring hope; Where there is darkness, only light And where there's sadness, ever joy. -St. Francis of Assisi

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Mindful Eating

Today I read this article and it got me thinking about the way I eat and the way I want my children to eat. The way we feed our children now will shape the way they eat as adults. I realized this anew as the boys and I were driving to PCC this morning. We passed by a Burger King and Jack commented that they make "really gross food there that's bad for your body." I said he was right. He added, "But if you eat good food most of the time, it's okay to eat French fries once in a while." I said he was right again. He asked why someone would make that kind of food, so I explained that good food takes time. Lots of people are in a hurry and don't have time to slow down and cook. I have not always been the food snob I am today. In college, I often had a small bag of Frito's and a Red Bull for "dinner." I've always loved fruits and vegetables, but sometimes it was just too much trouble to access them. I feel differently now. After becoming a breastfeeding mother, I see so much more clearly the connection between what goes into our bodies and what comes out of them. This is still true for those who are not breastfeeding mothers: crap in= crap out. I'm not speaking literally here, I'm talking about energy levels, concentration levels, mood, fitness, sleep quality, allergies...I could go on, but I think you probably get the picture. I didn't realize how much my eating habits had improved until I regressed and really felt the effects. When I was in college and eating whatever was easy, I didn't really feel that bad. My body was young and able to compensate for a lot of the abuse I gave it, and I was running a lot which helped. After I had Jack and was home all the time, I got used to eating food out of the fridge. Generally, this meant more fruits and vegetables, yogurt, milk. I developed a sensitivity to sugar. Breastfeeding changed my metabolism, and refined sugar made me feel awful. I felt terrible if I ate it, nauseous, headache, lethargic. Four years later I can handle small amounts of sugar, but I don't really crave it and rarely eat it. About once a month I'll get the urge for something sweet and make brownies, and I usually have to resort to baking something because we don't really keep dessert in the house. Today as I was thinking about Jack's comments on fast food, I got to thinking about criteria for making good food choices. While I was in New York I ate a LOT of food and most of it was amazing, but once or twice I didn't feel great afterward. Most days I have the luxury of thinking about what I want to eat and then preparing it in my own sweet time, but in college I'd often get stuck in the lab and then I'd be so hungry when I was done I'd eat the first edible product I could find. I was not a mindful eater. I didn't think about where my food had come from, what was really in my food, how it would affect my body or how it would make me feel. Now I think about all those things, and realized that the ideal food is something that meets the criteria of Before, During, and After. What I mean by that is this: is it a food I'd consider eating before I reach the stage of irrational hunger, or am I compromising my standards out of convenience? Is it a food I enjoy during my meal? Is it a food that will make me feel good after, both in an immediate sense(is it so heavy that it gives me indigestion?) and long-term(will it make me fat or unhealthy?). Full disclosure: I have taken my kids to McDonald's. I have made frozen nuggets for dinner. When we go to Costco, we usually get the kids pizza. If anyone reading this babysits my kids, know that I appreciate the fact that you feed my children, period, regardless of what you actually feed them. However I should warn you that the last time we went to McDonald's Jack behaved as if he'd eaten crack instead of a cheeseburger and Matteas barfed his McNuggets all over himself. Don't say I didn't warn you. I find it interesting to note that there is a group of foods referred to as "convenience foods." Heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure and cholesterol are hardly convenient, but that's what you're going to end up with if your diet is made up of those types of foods. "Comfort food" is another interesting term; it usually connotes foods rich in fat and starch, which I suppose is pretty comforting if you like having a big fat layer of blubber wrapped around you. Nothing says "comfort" like cellulite. Seriously, I'm not afraid of fat, but I think it needs to be used thoughtfully and for maximum advantage. A kids' meal that contains 75 grams of fat is neither thoughtful nor advantageous. The type of fat is also important; the fat in a twinkie is chemically very different from fat in the cream of a grass-fed cow or the bacon of a well-raised pig. So, what about kids who are picky eaters? My brother-in-law Tristan was notoriously picky and has been known to fast for an entire day rather than eat his dinner. Eventually he got over it, and is now one of the most intrepid eaters I know. I wouldn't know how to deal with someone as stubborn as Tristan, but here's what I've done with my own kids: -take them grocery shopping. Introduce them to the idea of choosing their own foods. -let them see you eating the foods you want them to eat. They're not going to eat things they're not exposed to. -take them to PCC. Kids get to pick a single serving piece of fruit for free with every visit. It's a great(and thrifty) way to teach them about making deliberate food choices. -try, try again. I've been putting broccoli on Matteas' plate for about a year. Jack loves it, but Matteas never, ever touched it. One night this summer I was serving dinner and almost left the broccoli off Matteas' plate. He'd refused to eat it for a year, I figured nothing had changed. I was wrong. Something finally clicked, and he decided to try broccoli. He ate all of his, then stole Jack's when he thought his brother wasn't looking. He asked for more broccoli and refused to eat anything else. -give them what they like. If your kid loves carrots and apples but won't try other fruits or vegetables, give them carrots and apples. They'll diversify later. The bottom line is, good food takes time. It helps to be prepared; we almost always have cucumbers, string cheese and apples in the fridge so we have some healthy go-to options for low blood-sugar. I like buying the big tub of organic mixed greens from Costco so I always have a base for salad without having to do a lot of work. Think about the things you want to eat and then think of ways to make those things more accessible and easier to prepare- many vegetables can be chopped ahead-of-time, especially if you're making something like stir-fry. I often use the time when Jack is at school to do things like prep a chicken or cut a steak into strips for that night's dinner. I spend a lot of time and effort on food. I'm grateful that I can afford to. I think about it a lot, I take my time preparing it(I'd make a terrible short-order cook), and, perhaps most importantly, I really take my time eating it. Enjoying my food to the fullest is what keeps me from being fat; when you really enjoy each bite, you don't need as much to satisfy you. You also notice when you stop being hungry and move into eating strictly for pleasure, which isn't really a bad thing if you know you're doing it because you'll stop at a reasonable time. I've encouraged mindful eating in our kids by asking them what flavors they notice in their food(Jack is really good at this; he described sourdough bread as having "a good lemony taste") and, when practical, letting them help me cook. I try to cook with mushrooms whenever I can because each of the boys can have their own cutting board and a butter knife, and I will actually use the mushrooms they chop. Over brunch this summer, Alison Bernhoft asked me when it was that I began to love cooking. I'd actually never thought about it before, but her question made me realize that my love of food in general began with a particular meal eaten at my sister Moira's house. I don't remember what the main course was, but what I do remember is the salad with balsamic dressing. It was my first experience with non-mayonnaise based dressing, and it was tangy and sweet and completely different from anything I was used to. It's also really, really easy to make. Making your own dressing is a super healthy choice and, for me, was the birth of thinking about what it is I'm actually eating(read the ingredients in a bottle of Hidden Valley Ranch; do you actually know what 'calcium disodium EDTA' and 'disodium inosinate' are?). The beauty of eating truly good food is that it's good for everyone involved on every level; good for the soil, good for the body, and good for the senses. Basic Balsamic Vinaigrette The easiest way, I think, is to use a clear glass jar. I save jam jars expressly for this purpose. First, add several glugs of balsamic vinegar. You don't have to measure because the amount isn't important right now. Next, carefully add olive oil until you have two parts vinegar to one part oil.
Add a dash of salt; if you really want to measure, use the palm of your hand. Be conservative, as you can always add more later if you need it. Add a few grinds of pepper.
Put the lid on and shake it. Congratulations; you've just made balsamic vinaigrette. As you get more comfortable with vinaigrette you can add things like dijon mustard and herbs, but for your first time out I'd recommend keeping it simple. Pour over your favorite salad. It's fantastic with mixed greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, green onion, feta or goat cheese, and any kind of toasted nut. Experiment, I really haven't met a vegetable that doesn't like balsamic vinegar. Leftovers can be stored in the fridge; if the oil hardens, simply leave the jar out on the counter until it warms to room temperature. Always give the jar a shake before using. Matteas loves it poured over plain sliced cucumbers. You can, of course, use other vinegars in place of the balsamic. The reason I started with balsamic is because it's sweet enough that you don't need to add sugar, something I usually do with harsher vinegars like red wine or apple cider, and I wanted to keep the recipe as basic as possible. The above recipe also works beautifully with lemon juice in place of the balsamic, but in that case I'd increase the amount of olive oil to 50/50. I like my lemon vinaigrette with baby arugula, shaved Parmesan and lots of freshly ground pepper.