The Food-Soul Link and Why It Sucks…

A very secure kitty, snuggled on my lap in a “blanket sandwich”

So, Jenna posted a blog today where she asked readers to comment regarding their favorite food memories.  And, what I intended to be a fun little jaunt down memory lane ended up being a full-on, sobbing, snot-running, cry-fest on the way home from work.  But, my thanks to you, Jenna, because it also resulted in an emotional breakthrough on a larger level.

So…”transparency alert” here…proceed at your own risk:

Food has the power both to heal and to kill.  It can soothe our emotions, but at the same time can destroy our bodies.  Thinking about my happiest food memory is hard for me.  Feelings of nostalgia are tempered by shame because my best food memories don’t seem “good enough.”  They aren’t memories of eating healthy food.  Actually, they’re seldom about food at all.  White rice and squeeze butter.  Cut-up hotdogs with ketchup.  Those are my favorite food memories.  They’re not healthy.  They’re processed, and they’re boring.

But they remind me of weeknights when my mom had to work and it would just be my dad and me.  And I would usually eat something like that, and then we’d watch USA Cartoon Express and then Airwolf.  To this day, I still love cut-up hotdogs and rice.

For me, the food-soul connection is a real battle.  Birthday cake reminds me of countless shared cakes between my dad and me (because his birthday is ten days before mine).  Boxed macaroni and powdered cheese reminds me of Mom’s go-to dish that she knew would make me happy.  A HUGE round slice of watermelon and a grapefruit spoon reminds me of summer afternoons as a kid, eating and spitting seeds into the plate.  Mom always likes to have the watermelon “butts” 🙂

The common thread among these memories is security.  There’s very little that’s more secure than being a kid in the home of two loving parents and knowing that you’ll be taken care of no matter what.  And that security is gone–replaced by work, bills, an unstable economy, a husband in grad school, and the knowledge that I’m now responsible for my own well-being.  And I’m doing a piss-poor job taking care of my own well-being.   Thus, food and tv become my security.  And eight years of seeking security through food takes its toll.

I don’t have the answers on this one, honestly.  Just writing about this brings me to tears.  Looking at food as a source of security is unhealthy and dangerous, but I haven’t yet discovered what healthy things/practices can fill that void.  I’m open to suggestions, though.  What does it for you?

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Recipe: Quinoa-Stuffed Red Peppers

Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • 2 red bell peppers
  • 4 oz feta cheese, crumbled

Filling:

  • 1 cup dry quinoa
  • 1 can chicken stock (or about two cups)
  • 1/2 vidalia onion, diced very thin (since you’re cooking it, you could use a hotter onion if you want)
  • 1 (HUGE) clove of garlic, minced
  • a few shakes of dried parsley

Instructions:

  1. Bring quinoa and chicken stock to a boil and then reduce to a simmer and cover.  Chop onion and garlic while it’s heating up
  2. After about 7 minutes, add the onion, garlic, and parsley to the quinoa.  Stir and cover for 10 more minutes
  3. Halve the peppers and remove the seeds and ribs (while leaving the pepper intact to make the “bowl” shape).
  4. Once the moisture is absorbed in the quinoa, fill each pepper with some of the mix.  Let it mound up over the edge of the pepper (You will end up with leftover quinoa.  Save it for lunch the next day!)
  5. Top each filled pepper half with 1 oz feta.
  6. Bake at 400* in toaster oven for 20 minutes

Note:  I do not recommend that you add salt to this if you’re using canned chicken broth.  It’s salty enough.  You will probably need to reduce the temp if you cook them in the big oven.  We were trying to reduce the heat in the house and save electricity.  Honestly, if you’re just making enough for two, the toaster oven has plenty of room.  You’ll know it’s done because the feta will be browned on top and the quinoa will be a little crunchy.  That top layer was the best part:-)

Recipe: Summer Quinoa Salad

A little late, I know.  But here she goes!

Serves 1

  • 1 cup quinoa, prepared by package instructions
  • 1/4 slicing tomato, diced
  • 1/4 vidalia (or other sweet onion), diced
  • 1/4 an english cucumber, diced
  • 1/4 yellow (or red or orange) bell pepper, diced.
  • 2 oz feta cheese, crumbled
  1. Chill the quinoa after preparing; an hour or so in the fridge would probably do.  You could also make the quinoa the night before.
  2. Mix all ingredients in a bowl.
  3. Eat up!

I probably wouldn’t use a green bell pepper in place of the red/yellow/orange…mild flavors are key here…the feta cheese should be the only strong flavor.  Feta and cucumber go particularly well together, so this was a winner in our house.  You could halve the serving and use it as a side dish, or you can do like I did and demolish the whole thing.

I’ve read lots of complaints that quinoa is too bland…I didn’t find it to be that way at all!  It is a mild flavor, but it’s a little nutty, a little like corn, and has a great texture…a perfect base for something like this!

I’f I’d had them, I would have added some chopped kalamata olives to give it a Greek feel, but it’s still awesome as-is.

Enjoy, peeps.

Travel Failure and Lessons Learned…

So, after my particularly relevant post about eating normally while eating out frequently, I promptly went out and ate without thought to my body or health for the remainder of the trip.  Lots of it was stress eating; we definitely pushed ourselves very far out of our comfort zone with this trip.  Here’s what I took away from the experience:

  1. Always be mindful of your “trigger foods.”  I have two that are particularly nasty:  french fries and Chinese food.  We almost never go to Chinese buffets, because I know that I lack the control to stay away from the sweet and sour chicken or the dumplings (or veggie tempura if it’s a Japanese buffet) or fried rice.  When we get Chinese food (and we do regularly), I always get a healthy choice and immediately put half of it away to have the next day for lunch.  Built in portion control.  I also hardly ever eat french fries.  If I eat them once, I’ll go through an uncontrollable phase where they’re all I want.  I don’t mind oven-baking them (because I don’t believe that potatoes are evil), but actual “fries” are out.  Unfortunately, I had fries (once, which turned into three or four times), and we hit a Chinese buffet.  All in six days.  The takeaway?  Know your limits!  No one knows them better than you do, anyway, and it’s no one’s responsibility but your own to be mindful of what you can and can’t control.
  2. Pay attention to your fitness level in light of your destination.  We went to Portland, OR, and didn’t rent a car.  So we had to ride the bus, train, and walk.  Everywhere.  Tons of walking.  Up steps, up hills, and even four blocks in the dark in a scary part of town when the bus driver let us off at the wrong stop!  Not only is it walking, but it’s walking while carrying things, like luggage.  Forty pounds of luggage.  In the dark.  In a scary part of town.  This is something that I really should have been working up to…I may have been more prepared and less red-faced and out of breath.  Being tired and feeling fat because you’re tired puts a huge damper on a vacation.

Our next trip is going to be much more relaxing in that it’s not a “constantly on-the-go” kind of trip, but it’s going to involve a lot more hiking.  It’ll be in about a month.  The time to start improving personal fitness is now.

What about you?  Have you ever had a particularly noteworthy food or fitness issue arise during a vacation?  How did you handle it?

Thoughts on Travel Eating

We’re currently in Portland, OR, visiting a friend who’s getting married on Monday.  Travel eating is something that I’ve always had trouble with.  When we travel, I live in constant “celebration mode.”  A Weight Watchers leader that I worked with always told her classes that, if you eat out frequently, then you need to get yourself out of the mindset that each dinner out is a celebratory experience.  Our inhibitions are deadened by the feeling that “this is a special occasion,” which hearkens back to the days when people seldom at out and as such, those times were a mini-celebration. These days, most people (to our own shame) eat out several times a week.  The point, then, is that unless the meal out really IS a celebration, the it should be treated like any other meal that you’d eat at home.

So, I’m in a strange location, learning to use public transportation for the first time, surrounded by strange sights and some people that, quite honestly, have frightened me, trying to navigate the streets of downtown Portland, and am faced with trying to find a healthy option for lunch…something that’ll hold me for a long time (because I have no idea when we’re going to have dinner with friends), but something that doesn’t start that cycle of self-loathing either.

This was my decision; we saw a Pita Pit in our exploration and I’d always wanted to try it; it’s a ham and egg pita, with hash browns and every veggie except mushrooms (apparently, pineapple is considered a “Veggie” there, so I’ve also learned that pineapple with ham, eggs, jalopeños, olives, etc. is actually pretty tasty!  I snagged a nutrition guide before sitting down (in this awesome little tucked-away space in the front window) and saw that the whole thing breaks down about about 500 calories and 16 grams of fat.  Not too shabby, seeing as I probably won’t get to eat until 8 pm or so.  High in protein and high in veggies…and some carbs to fuel all of the walking…it’s definitely done the trick, and I’m still full four hours later.  I’m also aggressively caffeinated, but that’ll be a story for a different post.

I have to be honest…I don’t know that I would have made a pita like this at home, but I also beat down my “urge to splurge” just because we were having a meal out.

And Mr. PhD is on a mission to try out every possible coffee that there is in Portland.  I have a feeling that we’ll be going through the DT’s for days after we get back home.

Tomorrow…The Portland Zoo!!

I Continue to be Drawn to Food and Healthy Living, Despite My Greatest Efforts to the Contrary…

I’ve been doing exercises from the book The Artist’s Way in an effort to reconnect with my own creativity and right-brain, to undo years of damage done by corporate America and the need to figure out a way to survive life.  Some things have happened in the past several month that have made me realize that I shouldn’t be just trying to “survive,” but I should be seeking to “thrive,” to enjoy life and to consider more than just my ability to be a financial provider and overworked grad student.  One of those exercises was to make a list of things that I’m passionate about.  I filled a page pretty quickly, in totally random patterns, not paying attention to lines or directions.  However, what dominated my page was food, fitness, and the pursuit of greater health.

What led me away from this blog was the overwhelming nature of most food/healthy lifestyle blogs:  the need for daily (and sometimes twice-or three-times-daily) posts, the need for five or more pictures per post, the need to be constantly upbeat, excited, and quite possibly over-caffeinated about my life…you know the drill.  I’m just going to be candid here; I don’t have it all together.  And I can’t pretend that I do.  I am still overweight, despite efforts with some success.  I still have fifty or so to lose, and I can’t pretend that every day is a wonderful, interesting adventure full of exciting destinations and super-colorful food.

But, I don’t want to not food blog, so…what am I to do? 

I’m going to blog about the real struggle of weight loss.  That’s something at which I am an expert.  I’m going to shoot for three posts per week, instead of the overwhelming seven.  I promise you discussions of the emotional and philosophical side of weight loss and dietary/lifestyle changes.  And don’t worry, I promise to still have a good amount of food prOn and recipes here.  It’ll just be more “me,” now.  If you’ve been here before, I hope you’ll stay with me…and if you’re new, WELCOME:).

Here’s a little “wilderness-food-prOn” for you…home fries and coffee perculating over a fire, courtesy of my husband, Mr. PhD, during our camping weekend at Moonshine Creek Campground in Balsam, NC, last fall:

Simple Roasted Root Vegetables

Over the past 24 hours, we’ve gotten about 1 inch of snow and maybe another inch of ice.  It looks pretty, but it’s not so much…we did a six hour babysitting stint today, and ended up driving back after dark, so it was pretty scary.  And, in true Union County, NC form, they didn’t even brine the road the AIRPORT is on.  Anyway, on to better (meaning food-related) things..

I’ve had some turnips in the fridge since…well, Christmas.  I squeezed them a couple of days ago and they were still firm, so I decided that we should do some simple roasted Root Vegetables for easy meals.

First, I know Brussels Sprouts aren’t root vegetables, but it needed something green.

Ingredients:

  • 4 turnips
  • 5 carrots
  • 5 red potatoes
  • 2 onions
  • 2 bags of frozen brussels sprouts

Instructions:

  • A couple of hours before cooking, thaw the brussels sprouts in a colander in the sink.  The colander will allow excess moisture from freezing to drain.
  • When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 425*
  • Cut vegetables into medium-sized chunks (probably around the size of your thumb).  Leave the onion chunks together (rather than separating the layers)
  • spray a baking sheet (you may need two or three depending on the size)
  • lightly salt the veggies and spread out onto one layer on the baking sheet.
  • Bake for about 45 minutes or until the vegetables are tender but have some dark “roasted” spots.
  • Serve warm with whatever seasonings you’d like!

The first time I had them this week, I added ketchup.  For lunch today, I added a little garlic powder, onion powder, basil and oregano, salt and pepper, and some parmesan cheese.  Yum!

Enjoy, peeps!  We’re not going anywhere tomorrow; church is cancelled, so we’re spending the day in pjs:).