Day 18 and the importance of meals

My best days so far on Whole30 have been the days when I have very specific plans for every meal. This is hard, because I’m out of the house 11-12 hours a day, and so anything that isn’t planned and made easy by the end of the weekend is destined to be sloppy and slapdash.

Having a plan for how to get protein in me at breakfast alongside some veggies and maybe a fruit, a well-packed and filling lunch, and a plan to make dinner savory and hot, all are necessary to make a day without snacks and slip-ups. More frequently, though, it looks like this: I don’t feel like anything for breakfast, so I drink a bit of fruit juice, and I eat snacks at work, and lunch is enough but not enough to make me fortified to dinner, and then I snack while cooking dinner. Not great! Not technically outside the foods of Whole30, but well outside the spirit of the program.

So for these last 12 days, I’m working extra hard: three meals works for my schedule, I just have to commit to it and get nice and hungry for each one before eating everything, seated, with friends or Husband. I need to make enough in a given meal – for instance, tonight when I’m doing a second batch of meatballs – to really feel like I can eat off of that batch for a day or two. A side benefit of this diet is that I’m learning how to embrace leftovers in a way that I’ve always been grudging to do so – I’ll eat practically anything for a first meal, but I have to really love it to be good at eating the leftovers. I’m quite pleased at how this is stretching me, but Whole30 doesn’t work as a halfway choice, I’m realizing, so I’m committing again to the meal schedule!

Coming Out from Under a Rock

Hello again – Happy 2017! It’s been a week and a half, and after months of daily posts, it has felt… well, it’s felt new. This was my first time cooling it on blogging since I started last year. It felt good, but I realized: I’m not done. This has been too fun, too meaningful, to stop now.

On the first day of 2017, Husband and I embarked on the food journey called Whole30: 30 days of only fresh veggies, fresh fruit, meats, and nuts. We tried to eliminate all sugar, all grains, all alcohol and dairy and most food additives and legumes… pretty much all the things that I instantly reach for when food is on my mind.

For a while now, I felt like my decisions were all about “health vs. happiness,” because so many of my favorite foods were not healthy at all, just utterly out of proportion and bad for me. Many other people I know can eat all of these foods in moderation and reach for a salad afterwards… I realized I needed a change.

I instantly felt freer once Whole30 started – there wasn’t a decision to be made between health and happiness, but instead the assurance of health, with a little creative license to try to make those healthy meals give happiness. I’ve eaten so many sweet orange slices and so much watery celery, so many rich cashews and flavorful chicken – I’ve learned how to eat things without drowning them in those spicy and sweet, buttery and cheesy sauces that I’d been using to disguise my food.

This doesn’t mean I don’t miss bubbly mozzerella on top of flat pizza crust, or a bagel with honey walnut cream cheese – I love even the idea of eating forbidden foods right now. But I also actually like some of the foods I’m eating this month. This month, I don’t choose between bad and good, but the best of the good food, the things that give me variety and comfort but still health.

Food Memory: Sparkling Apple Cider

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My family are not big partiers, and they don’t need a lot to keep them entertained. I have great memories of how we all often stayed up till midnight when growing up to watch music and fireworks and the Times Square ball drop on the television. Since my parents don’t drink, we would pour sparkling apple cider into fancy cups and cheers each other about each new year. These memories, simple and comfortable and without any need to impress anyone, created the level of love that I have for the holiday of new beginnings – there’s something undeniably hopeful about New Year’s Eve, when we are trying to be better than we were the past year, even if we hate resolutions. It’s worth a sparkly drink to mark the occasion.

Book Review: Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist

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Do you ever read something, and have it remind you of a good meal? I stumbled upon Shauna Niequist’s Bread and Wine, and it has me thinking of macaroni and cheese. Sure, there are two foods in the title, but macaroni is thick and creamy, worth lingering over. Her work is by turns sad and sweet, by turns rich and stark.

Niequist is a religious writer, but she makes it a part of her life, not the goal of the book. She seems more interested in showing how food and life have come together for her than in forwarding a particular experience of spirituality, which I find really refreshing and lovely. It also opens me up to all the lovely parts of her religious experience: she’s gotten to marry friends of hers, and share food while discussing the Bible, and pray over those she loves. I don’t know much about her specific beliefs, but I do love that I learn about the foods and the travels and the friends that matter so much to her.

She has some serious thoughts about hospitality, which seem relevant as I’m embarking on my badly-defined quest to know how hospitality fits into modern life. She sees her home as a place that hosts others: even when she and her husband disagree on how warm to keep the place, even when things are awkward or unplanned or not what anyone expected. There’s something so authentic about the way she discusses both her own need to make a lot of experiences good for her guests and her own longing to release some of her unnecessary worries.

I’d recommend it as a winter time read; it has made me feel comforted and warm while I sit in a cold house and nurse a frigid cup of old coffee. It makes me think about how it’s worth it to make a new pot of hot water, to enjoy each bite of a piece of toast, and to write about the way people have made my life so rich and lovely. It’s a good way to feel about a book.

Cranberry Almond Granola – Homemade Christmas Gift!

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I get hits on this blog because of the title, like anyone, but one thing seems to be a little deceptive – people come here looking for those soup mixes and cookie mixes that look cute in mason jars and are nice presents for people. The recipe for the cookies or the soup comes with the jar, so I guess “recipe in a bottle” is a reasonable thing to search if you want to make those as gifts!

This year, though, I did give one gift in a jar: granola. In college, I learned to love granola for the thick crunch of it, the fact that it masked some great fiber and fruit under a cereal-like exterior, and it livened up my vanilla yogurt. I figured out that the difference between oats and granola was just a few mix-ins and some careful baking, so I tried it. My homemade granola, straight from the grubby dorm kitchen, was delightful and made our institutional walls feel a little warmer when I was sharing it with friends.

Using pinterest, I found this recipe, which seemed like a great start. I used all whole unsalted almonds and dried cranberries instead of blueberries, but I used coconut oil for the fat and maple syrup for the sweetness, and mine came out delectable. I’m using it in my mother and father’s Christmas gifts, and I still have some at home for when we return from our travels. It’s a food I associate with being far from home and trying to make it on my own, but it’s pretty nice to share it with the people who got me to the place where I could feel independent and strong. Christmas with family when you are all adults is a nice time to acknowledge the many roles that you’ve had in each other’s lives, and to celebrate those places.

Food Memory: A Cozy Host

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One time, Husband and I stayed at an AirBnB, an accommodation where people rent out a spare room for a night or two. It was inexpensive, and these people were so kind while still being so busy: we spent a whole evening together watching extreme sports videos while the hostess worked on a painting and chatted with us, and her husband showed us all the improvements they were in the process of making to their old farmhouse. This breakfast (I swear they gave us more than bacon, but they were quite generous with the bacon!) made me feel like I was staying with friends, not just with people who wanted a little extra cash. 

Food Memory: Fresh, Tiny Bell Peppers

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The combination of rain and sunshine didn’t do our bell peppers that well this year, but in early October a few late and small peppers came from the plant before frosts took it. They were bitter, like all the thick flavor of a full sized bell pepper had concentrated into these tiny versions, but they made me smile because they seemed awfully tenacious. I hope to help my garden need less resilience next year, but it makes me smile to think at how the plants were fighting to survive, not fighting me. It puts me on good terms with Mother Nature on these frigid days.

Food Memory: Food Truck Flavors

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Most people don’t love sitting on the curb to eat their meal out of a paper-board box, but when it’s part of a food truck rally, it becomes a much more exotic notion. While travelling, Husband and I visited a food truck rally that allowed us to see a huge variety of trucks, and what I liked best was that they tended to specialize: instead of trying to serve 50 different meals, they had 3 meals with a couple customizable parts. What food trucks lose in gas efficiency (brick and mortar don’t have to pay gas to move around!) they gain in inventory efficiency – they can pretty regularly stock up and sell down all their supplies. It also makes me feel like I’m getting their most delicious fare, because I don’t wonder if the other 49 menu items are better. Having a big squad of food trucks allows a group to buy multiple items and sample a wide variety of dishes, creating a down-home version of the high-fallutin’ “tasting menus” of fancy dining. If you want variety, these rallies are where its at!

Food Memory: The Best Salad Ever

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I have tried, extensively, to love salad – it’s good for you and it should just be naturally desired by our bodies, right? No dice for me. Salad is still something I shovel into my mouth to get to whetever else is coming, but occasionally, I find a salad that truly dazzles me. This salad had chicken and champagne vinagrette and ripe tomatoes and chunks of avocado and goat cheese – many things that made the salad less purely good for me, but in this compromise lay the desire that I wanted. If I want to be able to eat a hunk of garlic-and-herb cheese, it’s good that it comes paired with a bunch of mostly-low-flavor greens. This salad reminded me that I can add excitement to the everyday by pairing healthy and mundane things with the things that spark joy in me. I don’t have to love salads to love that.

Food Memory: Irish Breakfasts with E and S

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Many of my best talks in graduate school didn’t happen in the classroom – they happened while eating the breakfasts at the Irish themed restaurant in town with E and S. Both of them were thoughtful women who wanted the best for ourselves and our classmates, but we all had our frustrations to vent, and there’s just something about buttery toast and fried potatoes that helps a person process the many ideas we confronted daily. We planned papers here; E told me her idea for what would be her first book here. I ate enormous pancakes with pecans and bacon in them, and I calmed down about my anxieties as a teacher here.